The next stop on KJ Jiles’ “crazy” football journey: America’s Finest City

Credit: Twitter @KJJiles2

Credit: Twitter @KJJiles2

In mid-December, fresh off an official visit to the University of New Mexico, Kenneth Jiles, Jr. landed back home in Dayton, Ohio. Turning his phone off airplane mode, he checked his social media and saw a direct message on Twitter from Craig Smith, the former Director of Player Personnel at San Diego State University. Smith’s message asked if Jiles had time to chat. 

It was the first time Jiles had heard from SDSU. About 45 days later, on National Signing Day on February 1st, Jiles signed his grant-in-aid to transfer to play at SDSU starting in the Fall of 2023. 

But Jiles’ road to becoming a Division I athlete has been unlike most. 

“I feel like I have one of the craziest stories in football,” Jiles remarked on an upcoming episode of The SDSU Football Podcast.

Jiles estimates he played about ten snaps of high school football. Despite playing football from Kindergarten through 8th Grade, he forwent the sport in order to play basketball and compete in track and field in his first three years at Springfield High School. He also had a job to help pay for his car. 

Despite not playing football, Jiles caught the attention of Maurice Douglass, the head football coach at Springfield, who saw Jiles walking around the building at school and saw his potential. 

“I was tired of seeing this big, 6’2 guy walk in our building and (not play),” said Douglass in an interview with EVT. “He weighed 175 to 180 as a freshman, but you could tell he was going to be a long, athletic kid.”

So Douglass hounded Jiles for a few years, telling him he needed to come play football for him. Jiles resisted until the end of his junior year when Douglass broke it down for him. 

“He kept getting bigger and bigger,” Douglass recalled. “I told him, ‘dude, it’s your last year. You owe it to yourself to try it. You don’t know what’s going to happen, and you don’t want to have a life of regret thinking about something you could have done well.”

Jiles finally gave in at the start of his senior year and joined the team for the Fall 2020 season. For most high school football seniors, the Covid-19 pandemic immensely hindered their last chance to show off their skills to college recruiters.

While Springfield’s fall season was also disrupted by quarantines and abbreviated schedules, a different issue prevented Jiles from playing. In Ohio, to be eligible to compete in high school football, you must be enrolled in five classes and hold a specific GPA. For Jiles, the GPA was not an issue, but the number of classes was. Approved by the school for eligible seniors, Jiles was only scheduled for four classes that year, which led to an eight-game suspension. 

Credit: Twitter @AztecFB

He was able to practice with the team during the suspension and played on the scout team for the offense (at tight end) and defense (defensive end). He returned in time for the playoffs and was able to get on the field in very limited action. 

“I didn’t even have a high school career in football,” he said. “It’s crazy. So with 10 snaps, I gained two D2 offers (from Walsh and Urbana).”

It may be surprising to most to comprehend how a kid who only played a couple of games in high school with limited snaps received scholarship offers. But not to Douglass. He knew that recruiters saw the same physical attributes he did when he courted Jiles to play for him. 

“When you saw his movement skills, you realize he could turn out to be a gem for somebody because he has long arms and is fairly twitchy for a big guy,” Douglass said when asked why Jiles was so appealing to recruiters. “He has a great bend and is pretty limber and flexible. He has the ability to drop his shoulder and get under linemen.”

Jiles points to his 4.6 speed (40-yard dash) as his strong suit. “If I’m coming off the line, you got to be ready. I don’t react off you. You react off me,” Jiles added when asked to describe his playing style.  

Jiles enrolled at Walsh University, a private liberal arts college in North Canton, OH, with an enrollment of 2,800 students. His time at Walsh lasted less than two months, with zero games played before he left the school because he did not like the structure of the program. 

His next path was junior college, enrolling in Hocking College in Nelsonville, OH, which plays in the Greater Western Ohio League and are the only two-year school in Ohio, Michigan, and Indiana that offers football. 

Getting on the football field was still not in Jiles’ immediate future, however. He was deemed ineligible in his first year at Hocking due to a lack of credits and had to sit out the 2021-2022 season. 

The continued struggles with eligibility and finding an opportunity would have broken many people in their late teens and early 20s. But not Jiles. 

“It didn’t change anything because, in my mind I’m going to continue putting in this work until something shows,” Jiles remarked. “I knew I had a whole year (2nd JUCO) ahead of me, so I was really just focused on getting better and getting prepared for the year coming up. I could not let (anything) hold me back. The moment you let something like that hold you back, you failed.” 

Finally, the hard work paid off as Jiles saw the football field for a full season this past fall. And he did not disappoint. He played all nine games on the season at defensive end, collecting 17 tackles, four tackles for loss, three sacks, three forced fumbles, and one fumble recovery. 

The 6’2, 180lbs high school freshman that Douglass saw walking through his building is now 6’6, 240lbs and the sixth-ranked edge rusher and 75th player overall in the JUCO transfer portal per 247Sports.

Despite the statistics and accolades, Jiles was unsure what that would mean for his dreams of playing DI football. Midway through the season, he had yet to hear from any coaches or programs. 

That changed quickly. First came an offer from Alabama A&M. Then Toledo, New Mexico, Jackson State, and others came calling with scholarship offers. 

After receiving the DM from Craig Smith, they hopped on the phone, and Jiles heard from Smith about the culture at SDSU and why they were interested in him. 

Two big factors played a key role in SDSU’s interest in Jiles.

Credit: Twitter @KJJiles2

First, Douglass has known SDSU’s head coach Brady Hoke and defensive coordinator, Kurt Mattix, for a long time, dating back to their time running camps at Michigan when Hoke was there. Hoke and Douglass have also crossed paths frequently in their hometown of Dayton, OH. When the coaches needed details about Jiles for their evaluation, they asked Douglass for his assessment. 

Second, Hocking College runs the same 3-3-5 defense that the Aztecs have utilized since Rocky Long embarked on the Mesa 14 years ago. Ted Egger, the head coach at Hocking for Jiles’ two seasons, studied the defense from Long and implemented it into his defensive philosophy. Playing in that defense gives Jiles an upper hand over other defensive linemen who could have a more significant learning curve once in the program. 

Despite the interest from SDSU, Jiles did not receive an offer from them initially. He kept his recruitment open, opting to make a final decision and sign on National Signing Day instead. A few days after his conversation with the Aztecs, Jiles tweeted a verbal commitment to Jackson State on December 21, the first day of the early signing period. 

Despite still not making a formal offer to Jiles, the Aztecs invited him to San Diego for an official visit on the last weekend of January, just a few days before National Signing Day. While Jiles was there, they made the offer that Jiles had been waiting for. 

“It’s a great program, and I know I could achieve great things (at SDSU),” Jiles said. “My goal is to be in the NFL, and San Diego State (has) everything I need to get to where I want to be, so that was a really big thing. I really knew like the first day (that) this was home.”

Jiles also noted that it was an easy decision for a Midwestern kid like himself that had never seen a beach or the beautiful downtown and people that San Diego has. 

Jiles made it official, signing with SDSU on February 1. He will enroll at the school in the summer with three years of eligibility remaining. 

Given the Aztecs’ loss of all three starting defensive linemen from 2022, Jiles will have as good of an opportunity as anyone else on the roster to crack the rotation, especially given his familiarity with the defense.

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He plans to come in and play right away but understands the competition at the next level will be fierce. “Coming from Juco, you’re not going to see a 4-star or 5-star lineman every game,” he noted. “The biggest change is going to be the competition, but I love competition. I feed off that. That’s just going to (make) me even better, push me even more.”

Jiles is hoping his crazy football story will have a happy ending when it is all said and done, but for now, he is embracing the ups and downs of his journey. 

As coach Douglass affirmed, “if (Jiles) didn’t learn anything else from Springfield High, he learned that you have to fight for everything you get. Every rep. Every play.”

That’s exactly what Jiles has done and will continue to do as he makes his way to America’s Finest City in June. 

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