Ultimate Report On Julio Jones

Editor's Note: A.P. Steadham, who ordinarily covers athletes who have completed their Alabama careers and gone on to professional sports success in football, basketball, baseball and the like, has a family background in Baldwin County. That led to his interest in Julio Jones of Foley High School. He has covered all the bases in delving into the life of Julio Jones. This is the first of five parts.

Julio Jones foreshadowed his elusive style on the field and his shy nature when as a young boy he was attracted to a game that satisfied his urge to run. "We played hide and go seek in the neighborhood. I guess that made me fast, playing so much. Keep running, keep running. You didn't want to get tagged. You're still running, running and you keep pushing yourself, pushing yourself, pushing yourself," Jones said as the voice inflection elevated with each word as he reflected on the genesis of his passion. "Never quit and let someone touch you."

He has been true to his word as he's successfully dodged defenders between the white lines on the field. Equally as challenging a task over the past 12 months has been his effort to elude the countless media interview requests requiring his time. Journalists at all levels want to learn about the proclaimed number one high school receiver in all the land.

Sports reporters are not the only ones seeking to occupy his attention as a legion of Southeastern Conference coaches including Alabama's Nick Saban, Auburn's Tommy Tubberville and Florida's Urban Meyer made the pilgrimage to the Foley High School's May football jamboree in pursuit of the gifted wide receiver residing in a town 12 miles from the beautiful white sandy Gulf Coast beaches of south Alabama.

Namesake Chicago businessman, John B. Foley, was on his way to President McKinley's funeral in 1901 when he heard about the fertile land in south Baldwin County. After purchasing over 40,000 acres, his Magnolia Land Company agents began selling the plots as the town was established in 1905 before being incorporated in 1915.

Flowing south through the heart of Foley is Highway 59 (North and South McKenzie Streets) functioning as the artery gushing with all business establishments ranging from a horse riding stable and tractor company to the new Bryant Bank, along with the over 120 shopper's paradise brand name store outlets revered by tourists.

Foley has always been the economic center for commerce in the region according to Donna Watts, president and CEO of the South Baldwin Chamber of Commerce. She said, "About 40 per cent of the county's retail sales tax revenue is generated from Foley." Even though the area plays host to five million visitors a year, the quaint community still retains the small town atmosphere with big city amenities commented Mayor John Koniar. Recognized as the fastest growing school system in the county, groundbreaking ceremonies were held this fall for an indoor multi million dollar practice high school facility at One Pride Place.

Across from the John B. Foley Park is the Foley Coffee Shop where locals gather to discuss the day's events. Hospitable waitresses address you as "Darling," even though the cologne of stranger permeates the air. Just as the first name Elvis resonated with excitement in those early Memphis days, the mention of Julio elicits a smile along with a conversation in Foley as he remains in vogue for all the acclaim he's brought to the community. Bearing resemblance to an impromptu harmonious singing of a Christmas song stanza by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, people can't wait to tell you about the exceptional feats he's performed through the years.

Sitting down to eat breakfast with Alabama High School Coaches Hall of Fame member, Ivan Jones, 81, coach of the most famous Foley Lion, Kenny Stabler, attention is drawn to the walls where the past gridiron heroes' photos of the 1950s and 1960s are prominently displayed. Memories of former great Lion football players come alive during the discourse as the inevitable comparisons are pondered. Competitiveness is the common thread weaving through the conversation as Julio and Snake are compared. "He (Stabler) had a lot of God-given talent and he was so competitive, "said Ivan Jones. "Somebody said if he was playing marbles, he wanted to win. Both (Stabler and Jones) are so competitive." As an observer of Baldwin County football for 50 years, Ivan Jones proclaims, "Julio is probably the best as far as a receiver I've ever seen in high school. He has great hands, speed, strength and jumping ability. I've seen him catch line drive kick-offs with one hand."

Foley has a great tradition of celebrating their heroes as radio station WHEP's Clark Stewart recalls, "My Dad (the late Jim Stewart) called games for Foley High School back when Snake Stabler played. Back then he called the games from the cab of an old pickup truck that used to sit behind the home stands."

Stewart, broadcaster of Foley High School football who has watched Julio play since he was a freshman, believes he's been in rarefied air to have witnessed such feats. "I have seen him do things as have Foley fans and fans of other teams that frankly I've never seen a football player do at any level," Stewart said. "He's just incredible. Having seen some terrific players come out of the Baldwin County and Mobile areas such as Lectron Williams, Tee Martin, JaMarcus Russell and Herbert Casey, there is no question in my mind he is the most phenomenal high school player I've ever seen. He is unbelievable what he can do with a football and he's a humble kid."

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