Coming out of high school in Austin, Texas, East Carolina wide receiver Zay Jones had limited options. Much like the Temple team he will face in his final college game, Jones is a player who has well surpassed expectations after being lightly recruited in high school.
Temple will be heavily favored to beat the Pirates at 7:30 p.m. Saturday at Lincoln Financial Field.
The Owls (8-3) are 6-1 in the American Athletic Conference and would win the East Division title with a win or a South Florida loss earlier in the day to Central Florida.
ECU (3-8, 1-6) has struggled, but Jones has continued to shatter the NCAA record books along the way.
With 12 receptions for 212 yards and two scores in a 66-31 home loss to Navy last week, Jones became the all-time Football Bowl Subdivision leader in receptions with 392. The old mark of 387 was set by former ECU standout Justin Hardy, now with the Atlanta Falcons.
"It was huge for me and my family and such a great moment and something I will remember for the rest of my life," Jones said during a phone interview about breaking the record.
This season, he has 151 receptions for 1,685 yards and eight touchdowns. Jones is within a half's work of breaking the FBS single-season reception mark of 155 set by Freddie Barnes of Bowling Green in 2009.
Not bad for somebody whose phone lines weren't exactly lighting up during the recruiting process.
"My only options were East Carolina and Arkansas State and to walk on somewhere in Texas," Jones said.
So, naturally, the 6-foot-1, 197-pound Jones has used his recruiting snub as a source of motivation.
"As a young kid you want to be offered by schools, especially in your hometown," said Jones, who is one of three finalists for the Biletnikoff Award, which goes to the nation's top receiver. "I am not the only one who was under-recruited and I do use it as fuel."
In his first three years at ECU, he played mainly in the slot, but this season Jones has often lined up wide. He has been described more as a possession receiver, a label that first-year coach Scottie Montgomery disputes.
"I don't agree with that," Montgomery said in a conference call. "We get him the ball [sometimes] 2 yards behind the line and he is going to get 6 yards when most couldn't do that, but he also gets the ball down the field."
Last year, under wet conditions at East Carolina, Jones had 10 receptions for 106 yards in a 24-14 loss to Temple.
"He is a big kid who can run, has tremendous body control, but the big thing about him is he is also really competitive," Temple coach Matt Rhule.
Rhule says Jones' competitive nature comes even when he isn't catching passes.
"You watch him block and he blocks, so I think he is a talented kid who is extremely competitive," Rhule said.
Jones has increased his reception and yard totals each year, resulting in 392 catches, 4,218 yards, and 23 career touchdowns.
"He's going to be a guy who plays 10-12 years in the league," Montgomery said, referring to the NFL.
Jones is excited about the future but doesn't want to overlook his final game.
"I am treating this like every other game, with the same mentality to be the best I can and to help my team," said Jones, who has caught a pass in 46 consecutive games. "I love this program so much and all it has done for me and I am going to try to finish strong."