My All-Time Favorite Alabama Football Player: Julio Jones

(Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
(Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images) /

My favorite Crimson Tide player is Julio Jones. He earned it.

When I was in middle school in a tiny Baldwin County town, murmurs of an uber-talented player from just down the highway in Foley, Alabama seeped into our hallways.

Every Friday night, he filled the stat sheets. His Lions laid waste to the region: Fairhope, Murphy, Daphne.

He was better than anyone in the county.

Scratch that.

He was better than anyone in the state, regardless of position. He was bigger, stronger and faster than anyone we had seen before at the wide receiver position. His high school accolades alone are too long to list.

Dominant is the most fitting word to describe him. His mother called him Julio.

In 2007, times were much different from they are now for the Crimson Tide. Nick Saban had just taken the job for an Alabama team that had suffered through five official losing seasons over the previous decade. Saban, being the excellent recruiter he is, needed a can’t-miss star to bolster his new venture. Julio Jones was his man.

Jones told prior to Super Bowl LI he wasn’t decided on Alabama the morning of National Signing Day 2008. His incredible senior year for the Lions saw him haul in 68 catches for 1,181 yards and 16 touchdowns and every school around the country wanted his services. He had narrowed his selections down to Florida, Florida State, Oklahoma, Texas Tech and the Crimson Tide.

“I was like, ‘I don’t know where I’m going to go,'” Jones recalled. “But then I just thought: Why not stay in Alabama?”

Staying close to home wasn’t the only reason he chose Alabama that day. It was Nick Saban. It was the promise of a culture that fit Julio’s competitive mindset perfectly.

“He challenged me,” he told The Game. “He’ll win with or without me. I don’t want anyone to give me nothing. I want to work for everything I get and earn.

“Coach Saban put me third or fourth on the depth chart and made me work my way up. That’s what I loved about coach Saban, he made me work for everything I earned.”

Jones’s mentality is seemingly a rarity among all-world prospects. A kid from small-town Alabama given a five-star rating and the whole country wanting him and to give him everything. Jones rejected it all to be apart of something greater.

Jones never stopped impressing coach Saban.

“Julio reflects the culture,” Saban told Falcons media. “… Julio Jones decided to come to Alabama when we were 6-6. [The 2008 recruiting class] sort of accepted the challenge to make Alabama something special, and he was a big part of that.”

Number eight made an immediate impression. His first game, Clemson 2008, he turned heads with his first, of many, touchdowns. Fittingly, it came in the Georgia Dome, a place he’d continue to dominate for years.

When it was all said and done, Julio had 179 catches for 2,643 yards and 15 touchdowns in his three years in Tuscaloosa, leading the team in each category each year.

In the 2011 NFL Draft, the Atlanta Falcons traded a fortune to the Cleveland Browns to select Jones with the sixth overall pick. His dominance has only continued.

It’s said Jones was Saban’s most important recruit.

While the 2008 recruiting class produced names like Dont’a Hightower, Barrett Jones, Courtney Upshaw, Mark Barron and Mark Ingram, Saban needed the culture guy. The guy that would outwork everyone on the path to greatness.

That work ethic is what I’ve admired over the past decade. The silent-killer mentality. His authenticity. It didn’t matter where Jones came from. It didn’t matter that he was gifted with the perfect mixture of size, speed and strength. It wouldn’t be enough if he didn’t prove to himself every day that he had earned it all.

The University of Alabama’s slogan is “Where Legends Are Made.”

Julio Jones is a legend. He earned it.

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Check out the rest of Bama Hammer’s favorite all-time players: Joe Namath, Minkah Fitzpatrick, Antonio LanghamGreg McElroy and David Palmer.