Munnerlyn vs. Jones dates back to high school

When Captain Munnerlyn and Julio Jones go against each other Sunday, it will be a longstanding rivalry. The two friends have been competing against each other since high school, but it started with a different sport.

In recent weeks, Captain Munnerlyn has become the in-house expert on discussing players from the NFC South. Need the skinny on Drew Brees? Munnerlyn’s your man. Need a scouting report on Matty Ice? Oh, Captain, my Captain.

But, when it comes to Julio Jones, there’s more than a little bit of insight Munnerlyn can provide.

Both of them grew up in Mobile, Ala. Munnerlyn was two years older than Jones, but they traveled in the same circles and competed against one another as high schoolers – not in football, but in track.

“We really never played (football) against each other, because I’m a little bit older than him,” Munnerlyn said. “We also raced each other in track a lot of times and I never lost to him. I always beat him in track and I always remind him of that. I don’t know who would win now.”

The two of them forged a bond that started with Munnerlyn’s lopsided track rivalry, which, for all intents, was apparently the equivalent to the rivalry between a hammer and a nail. At times they were rivals. At times they were teammates, but both of them were extremely competitive and it came out when the two of them would go head to head with one another.

“Our schools didn’t play each other in football until after I was gone, but we ran against each other in track a lot,” Munnerlyn said. “We ran sprints and he was a triple jumper and a long jumper and I did the long jump. We ran summer track together and we were always competing with each other.”

Munnerlyn always had respect for Jones, but it was similar to the way an older brother has a respect for a younger brother – he’s good, but he can’t beat me. After Munnerlyn left Mobile to attend the University of South Carolina, he was shocked to see the strides that Jones made in his final two years of high school – enough that he was a prized blue-chip recruit whom the University of Alabama was not about to let leave that state.

“After I left high school and came back during those summers, all I was hearing about was Julio Jones this and Julio Jones that,” Munnerlyn said. “I was like, ‘God! This guy has turned into a beast.’ He grew a lot in those last two years of high school and really came into his own. He was bigger. He was faster and it was one of those where I actually got to see him grow up and what a special athlete he was in high school and at (the University of) Alabama. In that time, you could see the start he was going to become.”

Having played against Jones both in the SEC and twice a year in the NFL, Munnerlyn can speak to his talents more than anyone else in the Vikings organization. He has seen the best of Jones and, while he wouldn’t anoint him as being better than Detroit’s Calvin Johnson, he was willing to give a scout’s testimony to the enormous talent level that Jones possesses.

“He’s one of the best,” Munnerlyn said. “I’ve seen that guy grow up with my own two eyes since we were young. He’s a beast. Simple as that and he’s one of the best receivers in the NFL.”

The childhood competitors have brought their natural rivalry full circle. While their teenaged competition blossomed into both a college and professional rivalry, they are able to maintain a friendship off the field that has grown as both of them have been respected players at the highest level of football.

They mutually agree that being friends has its benefits, but, when they step between the white lines of a football field, as they will when they renew acquaintances at TCF Bank Stadium Sunday afternoon, friendship goes out the window – or at least gets suspended for about three hours.

“It’s hard,” Munnerlyn said. “In the offseason when I see him, we talk and we’re friends. But during the season it’s hard to go out there and be his friend. When the game’s over, I’ll talk to him and wish him well – that he stays healthy and has a good year. But when the game starts, it’s time to go to war. I’m a Viking and I’m out there to win the game. I’m used to it from playing him twice a year when I was in Carolina. Before the game, we could joke around and laugh about the old days and be fine after the game. But when the game starts, don’t talk to me. We’ll be fine after it’s all said and done, but we both have jobs to do and friendship doesn’t play into that.”

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