For more than six months, Jaden Milliner-Jones was committed to signing a national letter of intent with SMU.
On Dec. 21, the DeSoto (Texas) High School safety was at a signing day celebration at his school, sitting at a table decorated with four SMU balloons and an SMU hat, sitting next to his mother, who wore an SMU shirt.
Then, DeSoto head coach Claude Mathis mentioned Colorado and tried to cover it up by saying, “Where are you going to school?”
Milliner-Jones smiled and then pulled off a sweatshirt to reveal a Colorado T-shirt and his signing day surprise.
“Coach Mathis, even though he spoiled it, it was fun,” Milliner-Jones said with a laugh about surprising everyone with his choice.
Flipping Milliner-Jones from SMU was one of the signing day victories for CU and first-year head coach Deion “Coach Prime” Sanders. The three-star safety prospect from one of the top prep programs in the country had 15 other scholarship offers and actually woke up on signing day planning to sign with SMU.
“On signing day, I talked to Coach Prime and just made the decision that morning,” Milliner-Jones said.
Despite never visiting the Boulder campus, Milliner-Jones picked the Buffs because he knows Sanders and what to expect from a Sanders-coached team.
Growing up in the Dallas area, Milliner-Jones was in about fourth grade when he began playing for Sanders’ Truth youth program. He also played briefly for Sanders at Trinity Christian Academy.
“That (relationship) helped a lot,” Milliner-Jones said.
Asked what he liked about being coached by Sanders, Milliner-Jones, said, “Being held to the same standard as everybody else. He just don’t act super special. He acts like a regular coach, but he’s gonna coach you harder than most coaches. He’s gonna do what he needs to do to get us right.”
Milliner-Jones considered flipping from SMU to Colorado after Sanders was hired on Dec. 3, but stuck with the Mustangs because they had recruited him longer than any other school. Just a few days before signing day, however, Craig Naivar, the SMU safeties coach who recruited Milliner-Jones, was hired as the defensive coordinator at Coastal Carolina.
“I like, ‘Dang, I don’t really think I want to go to SMU anymore,’” Milliner-Jones said.
Still, it wasn’t until the signing day call from Sanders that Milliner-Jones’ future changed. And, this week he’s heading to Boulder to enroll early and get going with the Buffs.
Milliner-Jones will join a position group that has an intriguing mix of experience and youth.
The Buffs are slated to return starters Trevor Woods and Tyrin Taylor, as well as backup/nickel Jeremy Mack Jr., who was fourth on the team in tackles, and nickel Simeon Harris. Three safeties who were true freshmen last season are also set to return.
CU has also added two transfers: Jackson State starter Cam’Ron Silmon-Craig and former Arkansas starter Myles Slusher.
Milliner-Jones, who had 86 tackles, five tackles for loss and an interception as a senior, will come in ready to compete.
“I’m a hard-hitting, man coverage and box safety,” he said. “I can do everything. I played nickel, I played in the box a lot. I can make tackles, I can move, I’m versatile and I can cover.”
And, he’s a winner, having helped DeSoto to a 35-7 record the past three years, including a Class 6A state title last month. Now, he hopes to be a part of a winning culture at CU.
“I see what Coach Prime is trying to build up there; what type of team he’s trying to build and what he’s really trying to make,” he said. “He’s really trying to get a national championship and he’s trying to bring a lot of kids, so I want to be a part of what he’s building.”