The Alabama Sports Writers Association has been selecting a Professional Athlete of the Year (among its player of the year awards) for several decades, and it almost never is easy to make the determination. Past winners look like a Who’s Who in professional sports, from NASCAR drivers to the heavyweight champion of the world in boxing and Major League baseball players, NBA basketball stars, and NFL standouts in abundance.
This year the ASWA has selected former Alabama and Foley High wide receiver Julio Jones, now starring for the Atlanta Falcons, for the award.
Most professional athletes perform outside the state of Alabama, but the award can be presented to anyone who is a native of the state or who was a player at a state college. The ASWA is meeting in Hoover in suburban Birmingham this weekend where it will have its annual awards banquet. (Jones will be unable to attend.)
Jones is coming off his second straight All-Pro season with the Falcons. In addition to earning All-Pro recognition in 2016, Jones recorded the NFL's sixth 300-yard receiving game and received his fourth Pro Bowl invitation. Jones had 83 receptions for 1,409 yards and six touchdowns as he led the NFC in receiving yardage for the third straight season, despite missing two games in December because of injuries.
In three postseason games, Jones caught 19 passes for 334 yards and three touchdowns as the Falcons made it all the way to the Super Bowl, where Jones made what's considered one of the greatest catches in the game's history.
This is not the first time Jones has been honored by the Alabama sports writers organization. At Foley, Jones was a two-time All-State player. In 2007, he was Alabama's Mr. Football, the Class 6A Back of the Year and a Parade Magazine and Under Armour All-American.
At Alabama, Jones broke Crimson Tide records for receptions in a season and receiving yards in a game and in a season. He joined the Falcons as the sixth player picked in the 2011 NFL Draft.