Julio Jones Goes To Work Every Day

There were strange things happening for Alabama against Mississippi State last week. It was big play night, what with the Tide defense having two interceptions and five sacks and the offense scoring on three consecutive plays in back-to-back-to-back possessions.

And there at the top of the rushing statistics for Alabama was wide receiver Julio Jones. He had one carry for 56 yards and a touchdown.

Did Jones – snicker, snicker – give Heisman Trophy winner Mark Ingram, Bama's starting tailback, a hard time about that?

"No," Jones said. "He had me on receiving yards, so I couldn't get him about that."

There was that. A receiver – Marquis Maze – did lead Alabama in receiving yardage in the 30-10 win over Mississippi State, but in second place in receiving yards was Ingram, who had two catches. The first didn't help much. It went for minus one yard. But the second, a quick pass from Greg McElroy, turned into a 78-yard touchdown run for the Tide.

Maze had a 45-yard touchdown play when he took a short pass and went the distance late in the second quarter. The pass to Ingram followed on first down of Bama's next possession. Alabama didn't get the ball again until the third quarter, and on first down of that possession Jones went in motion, took a handoff, and sprinted for his touchdown.

Julio Jones' former Foley High School teammate, Robert Lester, was the Southeastern Conference defensive player of the week for the second time this year as he had two interceptions against Mississippi State. Lester is tied for the national lead with seven and Bama is tied for best in the nation with 17 interceptions.

This is something many football fans don't know. When a team is on offense, it plays with its football. When the other team goes on offense, it plays with its ball. So even though Lester has made seven interceptions, he doesn't get to keep a souvenir. "I have to give the ball back to the referee," Lester said. "It's not ours. We have to give it back to the other team."

Both Lester and Jones have memories of an important high school interception by Lester. "We had a big rivalry, Foley against Daphne, and we played on ESPN2," Lester said. "That was when I got my offer to play for Alabama. I caught the game-winning interception and it was the biggest moment of my life."

Jones remembered that the fans poured onto the field after the win-preserving interception, and the game ended even though the clock had not run out. Lester remembered that he didn't get that ball, either. His coach kept it.

Jones said that he doesn't often work against Lester in practice, but that he knows his longtime teammate is a competitor. "He reads his keys and he's always in the right place and makes great plays. He's been like that as long as I can remember. The ball just finds his arms."

The ball finds Julio's arms, too. This week he was announced as one of 10 finalists for the Biletnikoff Award, given to the nation's best wide receiver.

This season, Jones has 58 catches for 799 yards and four touchdowns. He also has four rushes for 80 yards, four punt returns for 44 yards, and two kickoff returns for 67 yards. And he's been playing since the middle of the season with a metal plate in his hand after he suffered a fracture.

Jones took the news of being a Biletnikoff finalist calmly.

"It comes from the O-line making blocks and Greg making great passes," Jones said. "I hope they keep doing that, and everybody will be successful."

Quarterback Greg McElroy was more excited than Jones.

"It's fantastic for him and he's very well deserving," McElroy said. "He's been as good as any wide receiver in the country this year. Unfortunately, those awards kid of become so much about statisitcs. The great thing about Julio, even though his statistics are off the chart this year, is the role he plays on a weekly basis, in the running game and the checks, the leadership he has on and off the field. That's what makes him special. We're really happy for him. He deserves all the credit he's gotten.

"We see it day-to-day watching Sports Center, the wide receivers that are complaining about not getting the ball, the wide receivers that are making a mockery of whatever, meals, things of that nature. That's the nature of the position. Julio is one of those guys that doesn't ever complain. He doesn't ever become frustrated because he's not getting the looks. Even last year, when he was a little bit hobbled, he did the best he could to make an impact. It's really kind of nice to see. He obviously comes from a family that instilled a lot of of character in him. I think we're really proud to have him. I'm really proud to have him as a teammate. He's a special person. He's obviously a very gifted athlete, but he's also a special person. A lot of people don't get to see Julio the man. They see Julio the legend. Just knowing him and getting to know him over the last three years as been a really great experience."

Julio Jones isn't expected to be on display for very long this week. Alabama, 8-2 and ranked 10th in the nation, hosts Georgia State, a start-up football program, on Thursday night. Kickoff is at 6:30 p.m. CST with television coverage by ESPNU. After that, Bama has one regular season game remaining, against Auburn on Friday, November 26.

Jones said there is no danger of Bama looking past Georgia State to Auburn.

"We come up here every day like it's a job for us," Jones said. "We come up here and handle our business. Each day you get better or you get worse, so we try to get better every day."

He said the goal would be to "Just play Alabama football, play for 60 minutes. Don't play down or up to my opponent. Just go out there and play Alabama football and play hard for 60 minutes."

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