Foley’s Julio Jones already cream of 2008 recruiting crop
By Derek Belt
Sept. 5, 2006
FOLEY, ALA. — When Foley’s Julio Jones steps onto the football field, try not to look away. You don’t want to miss something special.
Whether it’s awe-inspired fans in the stands, baffled defensive coordinators trying desperately to rein in the Lions’ talented wide receiver, or a growing number of college scouts and recruiting analysts, it seems all eyes are on the 6-foot-4, 205-pound junior these days.
“He’s a playmaker. He makes things happen,” said Foley quarterback Roosevelt Byrd, who last week hooked up with Jones 10 times for 143 yards and a touchdown in Foley’s 36-14 drubbing of Murphy in a battle of top-10 teams.
Following a stellar sophomore season in which he caught 51 passes for 805 yards and eight scores—and an offseason in which he stole the show at virtually every camp, clinic and 7-on-7 tournament he attended—Jones is being hailed as one of 2008’s top college prospects in the country.
Bryan Matthews of AuburnSports.com wrote, “While there’s still debate over who the top football prospect in the state of Alabama is for ’07, the early discussion over the state’s top recruit for 2008 begins and ends with Foley wide receiver Julio Jones.”
Miller Safrit of Scout.com says Jones “will enter the class of 2008 as one of the top receivers in the nation” and “has five-star status written all over him.” Tim Watts of BamaOnline.com calls Jones a “sensation” who “has a chance to be the nation’s top prospect next season.”
So what does Jones, a soft-spoken 17-year-old with a big smile and loads of potential, think about all the early fuss?
“It’s pretty exciting, but I just take it day by day,” he said, fanning a swarm of pesky bugs away from his face with a pair of correspondence letters from Vanderbilt. “I’m just trying to finish up high school and do what I’ve got to do here. I’ll worry about all that later.”
Jones has already received scholarship offers from a number of top programs, including Alabama, Auburn, Florida and LSU. He took visits to Alabama, Auburn and LSU this past summer, but admitted he’s in no hurry to make a decision.
After all, he’s got plenty of time to find a perfect fit.
“I’m just going to take my time and sign at the end of my senior year,” he said. “I’d like to stay close to home, but then again I want to go wherever’s best for me.”
For the time being, Jones appears to be thoroughly enjoying his time at Foley. The Lions are ranked No. 7 in the state, and Jones said he’s concentrating on leading the team to its first playoff win since 1995.
“I think he understands what’s out there for him, but he doesn’t let that be a distraction,” said Foley coach Todd Watson, pointing to a couple of fresh faxes from West Virginia and Ole Miss on his desk. “He really takes it in stride and leaves all that off the field. Once he steps across the white line you don’t ever hear him talk about it or mention it. He’s a very level-headed kid.”
As much attention as his play has attracted these past few months, Jones has made a splash off the football field, as well.
Last spring, he collected a pair of state track and field championships in the long jump and triple jump. This summer, he tallied a 41.6-inch vertical jump at the Southeastern Select 7-on-7 tournament in Hoover, smashing the 38.9 he scored at a Nike training camp at LSU last April. Also at the LSU event, Jones ran 4.56 seconds in the 40-yard dash, but he said that was in “worn down” cleats and claimed to have been clocked as low as 4.49 seconds.
Watson believes Jones’ biggest strength is just that—his strength.
“You’re talking about a receiver that full squats 505 pounds, power cleans 315 and benches 295,” Watson said. “For a 6-4 receiver, that’s unheard of at any level. But he works hard in the weight room. His work ethic and his strength as a wide receiver are his biggest assets.”
Despite all the early attention, Jones has maintained a sense of team and established himself as a leader. While he isn’t a “rah-rah” guy, Watson said he’s the type of player who understands the game and works to help his teammates do the same.
And that’s not something easily overlooked by the other Lions.
“He’s a role model for the other receivers,” said the senior Byrd, who is a major-college prospect himself. “He comes to work every day in practice, and he plays like he does at practice. When they see him going full speed, that just makes everybody around him better.”
After playing sparingly at running back and slot receiver as a freshman, Jones was moved to wide receiver last year and helped the Lions post an 8-2 record and earn the school’s first playoff berth since 2000.
“You get out there and you throw the ball around a little bit and you can see that he just has a knack for it,” Watson said. “His hands are phenomenal, and his ball skills and the way he can adjust to a ball on the run is amazing. It just comes so natural to him and looks so fluid. He’s exciting to be around.”
Watson coached former Florida standout and current New England Patriots rookie receiver Chad Jackson while an assistant coach at Hoover. He said the two wideouts are strikingly similar, but he believes Jones is further along at this point in his career than Jackson was as a junior in high school.
“Julio’s more of a natural receiver than Chad was,” Watson said. “Chad was a great athlete who had to work to become a great receiver. Julio’s more of a natural receiver whose work ethic could propel him to be one of the best I’ve been around in 14 years of coaching.”
With that kind of praise hanging overhead, it would be easy for Jones to set the cruise control and watch the scholarship offers come rolling in. But Watson said that’s not the kind of player—or person—Jones is.
“I think he understands that he’s just at the tip of where he could be from a potential standpoint,” said Watson. “But he doesn’t mind working. He’ll get out there and work at it to try and perfect his craft and be the best he can be.
“As long as he continues to work, he can be as good as he wants to be.”