New Detroit Lions wide receiver Marvin Jones went from Southern California to Northern California for college, from Etiwanda High School in the Inland Empire to the University of California, Berkeley.
The man who helped bring him to Cal, then-receivers coach Kevin Daft, still watches Jones’ games on NFL Rewind and occasionally texts him to say hello.
“I’ll stay in touch with Marv his entire life,” Daft said. “He’s probably the best player I’ll ever coach, arguably. You never know but he’s definitely one of the best people.”
How did Daft, now the offensive coordinator at UC Davis, land Jones, a four-star recruit by Rivals? He explains to ESPN.com. (This Q&A has been edited for space and clarity.)
Q: How did you find him?
Kevin Daft: He definitely stood out. His measurables, he’s been 6-2 for a while now. Just his combination of size and skill and speed definitely attracted us to him. He’s a guy we kind of marked pretty soon that we wanted to recruit and as we got to know him, we realized he’s an even better person. Can’t say enough great things about him. I still remember his senior year in high school, we had lost a game. It was a tough loss and I know he texted us right away. Even though we couldn’t text him back he was like, ‘Hey coach, I know this was a rough one. I know you guys will bounce back and you’ll be just fine.’ That’s a mature thing to do for a kid [in his] senior year in high school. A lot of kids wouldn’t respond but he went out of his way to say that. That was one little thing he did that you knew this kid was pretty mature.
Some kids waver a little bit when some teams [that are recruiting them] lose a game here or there. The more we got to know him, he was just a really good person and still to this day, very genuine person. Very down-to-earth. Things that he’s gone through in his life and also when you go to the NFL with all the stardom and all the attention and all that stuff, one thing I loved about Marv is he’s stayed true and he’s never really forgotten where he’s come from. He’s never let the lights and glimmer affect how he’s acted. He still goes to a lot of high school sports and supports a lot of local teams and he ... always stops to sign an autograph and talk to someone and give the attention lots of fans love to have. That’s why a lot of people gravitate to Marv.
Q: When you watched the film, what stood out?
Daft: His big-play ability was definitely huge. Playing the receiver position, you have to be able to make big plays and something that he’s always done really well, probably the best part of his game is he does a great job with contested catches. Anything in traffic, a guy hanging on his arm, the ball’s not thrown right there for him, somehow, some way he’s going to make that play. He wouldn’t make excuses [if] the guy was holding him or if his feet weren’t right or he couldn’t really see. He’s such a competitive guy, he’s going to make that play regardless of where the ball is thrown. That’s something that I saw really quickly, his first practice at Cal, we’re only in helmets and he’s like he’s playing in full pads and very physical and he’s making contested catches. Another thing that’s helped him transition from high school to college and college to the NFL is the moment is never too big for him. He’s never bright-eyed. He never feels like he doesn’t belong or anything like that. He carries himself like ‘Hey, I’m meant to be here. This is not bigger than me. I can play with these guys.’ You can see that all the time, where it takes them a while to adjust. But with Marvin, he steps right in and this guy is not backing down from anyone. He’ll go against the best corner the first day and he’ll compete his butt off no matter what.
The guy might be better, he might not, but he’s going to do everything in his power to make that play. That’s definitely something that’s always separated him because I think that competitive spirit definitely goes into his training and his offseason training and allows him not to get caught up in the obvious distractions that most guys still get caught up in during the NFL.
Q: When you landed him, did you think you had an NFL receiver?
Daft: We knew we were getting a really good player and a guy who was going to play early in his career. So nothing that he’s done has surprised me to be like, ‘I can’t believe Marv.’ It’s kind of like, ‘Yep, I always knew it.’ Even when he was drafted I knew it because I talked to some of the scouts and I know one thing, just like I told you before, he’s not going to be intimidated the first day he walks on the field. It doesn’t matter who you got at corner or what the team did last year or how many fans are in the stadium or if it’s a playoff game or if the game is on the line on fourth down. This kid is not going to bat an eye. He’s not going to back down from that and the moment is never too big. He thrives on that. Just knowing that that aura that you have when he’s around and he’s on the field, you knew right away. It’s the same way with Keenan Allen, coached my freshman year, is the same thing.
As soon as you’re around the guy, you already just know. You just know. He has the physical tools and mentally he gets it. He understands the game, understands what it takes and they are both very good, competitive and understand what it takes and they definitely want the ball in their hands when the game is on the line. It’s that kind of thing and you just see it in some guys.