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Ty Jones, the Huskies’ 6-4 receiver, is starting to realize the big-play potential UW coaches saw in him long ago

Jones, a Utah native, returns home to Salt Lake City on Saturday as one of the leaders of UW’s up-and-coming receiving corps.

Almost immediately, Ty Jones realized he had made a mistake.

A 6-foot-4 wide receiver, Jones had made a verbal commitment to the Washington Huskies in May 2016, before the start of his senior year at Provo (Utah) High School. At the time, Jones was regarded as a middle-of-the-road recruit — rated three stars and the West Coast’s No. 8 wide receiver by one recruiting service.

Washington coaches, after studying film of his sophomore season, saw in Jones something more — something potentially great — and still do. It wasn’t until late in the recruiting process that other major programs picked up on Jones; a week before National Signing Day 2017, UCLA offered him a scholarship and convinced him to make a last-minute visit to Los Angeles.

Husky coaches and fans anxiously waited out that weekend. Bush Hamdan, UW’s wide receivers coach at the time, said he had to fight for Jones as hard as any recruit in his career. “No question,” said Hamdan, now the Huskies’ first-year offensive coordinator.

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“As stressful as the recruiting process was, I wanted to enjoy it. So I went out there,” Jones recalled Wednesday. “My mom’s from Cali and I wanted to make sure she had a good time (at UCLA). … A lot more fans took it more seriously than I thought it was; I didn’t realize how serious that was at the time I took the trip.”

While in L.A., he realized Washington was truly where he wanted to be. His oldest brother, Jordan, recalled a text message from that weekend in which Ty expressed regret in making the trip.

Now in his second season in Seattle, Jones is starting to realize some of that vast potential UW coaches saw in him early.

Jones, a second-year sophomore, had the first two touchdown receptions of his career last Saturday in the Huskies’ romp of North Dakota — including an impressive one-handed catch while being held by a defensive back — and he figures to be an integral part of the No. 10 Huskies’ plans for Saturday night’s Pac-12 opener in his return home to Utah.

“The potential is there,” Hamdan said. “Now it’s just about going to work every single day. He was one of those guys who coming out of high school wasn’t a big, big name guy until maybe late in the process. He’s got to keep that chip on his shoulder.”

And what exactly is his potential?

“He’s a guy who has the potential to be really, really special. There’s no doubt,” Hamdan said. “I keep going to back to, when you’ve got a guy with his talent who works like a one-star guy with that chip on his shoulder — the sky is the limit for those kinds of guys. He’s got to keep that mentality.”

Through two games, Jones is averaging 21.9 yards per catch on his seven receptions. Those seven receptions already match his total from the entire 2017 season.

“Last year he was a true freshman who got thrown into the mix and he was thinking a lot,” wide receivers coach Matt Lubick said. “And when you think, that slows you down and you don’t play up to your ability. Now he understands his assignments and you can actually see his athletic ability come through, and I’m really proud of the way he’s made some big plays for us”

Jones, who originally made a verbal commit to Utah during his sophomore year of high school, expects upwards of 50 family members and friends to be in attendance Saturday in Salt Lake City (7 p.m. PT, ESPN). His parents will be there, as will his two brothers, Jordan and Isaiah. Jordan is in his second year as an amateur boxer in Salt Lake City — he hopes to turn pro in the next year and a half — and Isaiah, a former safety at Division-II Dixie State, recently began an internship in the business office of the Utah Jazz.

Ty and Jordan talk or text most days.

“He’s huge, huge factor for me,” Ty said. “I talk to him almost every day. He keeps my mind straight, keeps me on the ground and doesn’t let me get too confident.”

As kids, when it came time for the typical brotherly horseplay, Ty usually stayed out of the big fights. “He was always a teddy bear,” Jordan recalled. “He never wanted to wrestle, never wanted to box with us.”

That nice-guy demeanor, Jordan came to realize, changed when it came to football.

“When he gets on field, he’s very aggressive,” Jordan said. “Most people don’t pay attention to the blocking, but you can see how much he’s willing to fight when he’s out there blocking for his teammates.”

The proud big brother watched the Washington-North Dakota game from a Buffalo Wild Wings last Saturday (the game was on the Pac-12 Networks, and he has DirecTV), cheering on Ty’s first two touchdowns. Based on his offseason conversations with Ty, Jordan was confident this would be his brother’s breakout season at UW.

Others are starting to realize it, too.

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