Julio Jones Has Star Quality

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. Second of five installments.

Lured by the athletic exploits of Julio Jones, national cable station ESPN2 selected Foley's game against the Daphne Trojans for an early October Thursday evening broadcast. How much did the broadcast mean to the region? The national spotlight infused the entire population with excitement as four hours before kick-off, over four hundred fans of all ages draped and painted in the blue and white colors of Foley congregated under the intense oppressive Gulf Coast sun at the entrance to Ivan Jones Stadium.

Dignitaries from the mayor of Foley to the superintendent of schools and the county athletics director basked in the glory of the historical moment for Baldwin County football as 8,000 enthusiastic fans flooded the stadium on a muggy night in a town approaching 12,000 citizens.

Visible on the sidelines stood the reigning local legend, former Foley Lion, University of Alabama and NFL quarterback, the silver-haired southpaw, Kenny "Snake" Stabler. Namesake to the stadium, Ivan Jones, escorted the captains to the center of the field for the ceremonial coin toss. As the Mighty Band from Lion Land exited the field, emotions evoked tears trickling down the cheeks of a majorette marching to her bleacher seat before a single block or tackle was attempted.

Julio, the featured attraction was excited to be part of the broadcast but deferential, as is his nature. Foley wide receivers Coach Shane Jones said, "Now, everybody knows Julio. Doesn't matter if you're from California or Boston, everybody knows Julio. He doesn't like all the attention. He wants it to be about Foley. He wants to give credit to all the other players."

As the game progressed, Julio Jones displayed all the skills talent gurus desire in a game-breaking wide receiver according to National Director of Recruiting for Scout Media, Tom Luginbill. "He reminds me of a faster Michael Irvin," Luginbill said. "Looking at him physically, seeing how he is after the catch when people try to tackle him: He can stiff arm. He can shed tacklers. He is so physically strong and he knows how to use that frame. That was something Michael Irvin always knew how to do, shield his body between the ball and the defender and come down with it in traffic. That's what Julio does best."

Displaying his 41 inch vertical leaping ability, Jones wrestled the ball away from two defenders in the end zone for the winning touchdown as Foley survived against a formidable Daphne team, 16-14.

Foley's Athletics Director and Head Football Coach Todd Watson explains Julio's driving force by saying, "The tougher the competition the more he likes to go out and compete."

Luginbill's first venture into "Lion Land" as the ESPN2 television analyst for the Daphne-Foley game left him raving about Julio's desire. "I think his competitiveness impressed me more than the physical tools because I expected to see those," the Scout expert said.

Watson has not observed Julio's temper manifested in an overt manner but opponents have aroused his ire to their own detriment. "I have seen him geared up for football games and during football games. At times people have challenged him. Sometimes you'll find defensive backs want to talk trash to him and I think that just elevates his game."

Julio preaches and subscribes to the principles of the team concept but nursing a high ankle sprain in the first half of the Daphne game, his resolve was tested as first year Offensive Coordinator David Faulkner explained, "I think he was in a case where he could have said I'm hurt and I can't go. I think he knew how important that ball game was to his teammates and this community. He fought through the pain and continued to play. Offensively he really made the play of the game for us down there where he caught the ball for a touchdown over two defenders. I don't think people realized how bad an ankle injury he was fighting through to make a play. He's selfless and understands the team concept and plays his role within that."

His conduct has ingratiated himself not only to his teammates and coaches but also people throughout the community who've yet to meet him. Bonnie Donaldson, class of 1958 and Executive Director of the City of Foley Museum Archives located in the old L&N Depot on Highway 59, has been assembling a scrapbook of publicity clippings from magazine and newspaper stories that she intends to present to Julio or Foley High School upon his graduation. She approves of the humble, level-headed behavior and intelligence displayed by the team oriented superstar.

Principal of Foley High School for nine years, Kenneth Dinges expressed his admiration for the reticent superstar, "Julio is a student who enjoys being part of a high school. He is the most friendly, kind person you could ever want to be around. He is very non-committal about things. He could be a very big shot around school but he's not. No one holds him in higher esteem than this faculty and the student body but yet he's part of the student body and will continue to be one. He's just an outstanding young man. He is still a student here at Foley High School and that's the way he acts. He's just one of the guys around here. Julio's been a pleasant surprise for us."

Dinges offers a unique perspective of athletic talent after serving as a principal and coach for 30 years in the football rich state of Texas before settling in Foley. He was principal of Willowridge High School in Sugarland, Texas when NFL Hall of Fame player Thurman Thomas was a sophomore and junior. Dingest said, "Julio is the most physical athlete I've seen in high school. I think he is even more physical than Thurman. He is someone who's going to leave a mark wherever he goes in college and in the pros too."

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