By Dave Krider
Foley (Ala.) wide receiver Julio Jones is quiet, humble and rarely makes a bold statement during an interview. However, there is one theme that consistently surfaces: self improvement.
"I don't have any goals," Jones told MaxPreps. "I just compete against myself and try to make myself better."
In Alabama - and perhaps the entire USA - there may not be another high school athlete who can match up with Julio Jones. His physical gifts, alone, are amazing. It wouldn't be too much of a stretch to compare him with another former Alabama prep superstar, Bo Jackson, of McCalla McAdory.
"I think he's a comparable athlete because of his size and speed," says veteran Birmingham News sports writer Ron Ingram. "He is considered the best wide receiver ever to come out of the state."
- The 6-4, 218-pound senior has a vertical leap of 42 inches.
- He runs 40 yards in 4.44 seconds.
- He bench presses 355 pounds.
- He has personal bests in track of 24-2 in the long jump, 6-8 « in the high jump and 49-1 in the triple jump.
- In basketball he has been an outstanding shot blocker.
This is the year of the wide receiver across the nation, but at least one service ranks Jones as the No. 1 player, period. The ranking doesn't seem to faze or put extra pressure on him. He says simply, "It doesn't bother me. I don't think about it."
He does, however, take his role model status seriously "for little kids and stuff."
Mike Herndon, prep editor of the Mobile Press-Register, says, "He's one of the strongest high school receivers I've ever seen. When that ball's in the air, it's his - nobody's going to be able to knock it out of his hands. He's also the only high school receiver I've seen who combines that strength with the ability to make people miss after the catch. He's the total package."
Jones got his football start in neighborhood streets and at age 12 began playing in a city league. Running back was his major position at that time - though he also played safety - and he scored touchdowns in bunches. His idol was NFL superstar Barry Sanders because "every game he came to play and he was real humble."
In middle school he started to lift weights. At first he only could bench press 95 pounds, but he kept working at it - relentlessly - until reaching 355 pounds today. He broke his thumb in seventh grade and his wrist in eighth grade while starting on offense and defense.
As a sophomore Jones came under the coaching of Todd Watson, who was installing a wide-open air attack and suddenly he was a wide receiver. "It didn't matter - I just liked to play the game," the soft-spoken superstar said matter-of-factly. "It wasn't hard. I liked one-on-one match-ups, but not when I was double- and triple-teamed. I just kept working hard and listening. I watched a lot of TV and how they ran their routes."
Watson, who first got a good look at his future star when he was a sophomore, noted, "He could run and jump and was a big, physical body. Over the last two years he has worked really hard in the weight room. He has improved his strength and has better ball skills. He understands the position of receiver better - how he can use his body. He's the best I've ever coached.
"So much has been made about his receiving. The thing that impresses me the most is his blocking and strength. I've seen him take a receiver and block him all the way across the field."
Jones made an immediate impact as a sophomore, catching 51 passes for 805 yards and eight touchdowns. His junior-year statistics rose to 75 catches for 1,301 yards and 15 touchdowns. This year he has led the Lions to a 6-0 record, making 37 catches for 594 yards and nine touchdowns. He also has scored once on a run and once on a punt return.
Despite spraining an ankle, he caught two touchdown passes on Thursday as Foley handed Daphne its first loss, 16-14, before a capacity crowd of 8,000 and a national television audience. He also downed a punt inside the Daphne one-yard line with left to help clinch the victory.
So far his superb football exploits have been overshadowed by five state championships in track. "It has played a big role in my football," Jones pointed out, "because I work on my legs a lot and it helps me jump high. It's good that I've won, but trophies don't impress me."
As a sophomore he won the state outdoor championship in the long jump (22-11) and triple jump (47-5). As a junior he won the state indoor high jump (6-6) while repeating outdoor titles in the long jump (23-8 «) and triple jump (49-1). He also was fourth in the high jump (6-4).
Track coach D.D. Andersen calls Jones "a phenomenal athlete. He's a good kid and will do what you need him to do. I put him in the 100 meters at the county meet and he won. If he wasn't so big, he'd be an excellent decathlete. He's too big to pole vault," she laughed.
"He is so humble and such a big presence. You kind of forget that he's 15-16-17 years old. A kid asked him, `Hey, are you Julio Jones?' He said, `No' and pointed to another guy.
"At middle school pep rallies, as soon as they are over kids swamp him. I told my mother that I felt like a body guard for Madonna."
Assistant principal Russ Moore, who coaches Jones in his special events, points out, "He's not only a tremendous athlete physically, but also mentally. He has a good understanding of his body. If I can explain something in the middle of a meet, he can correct it immediately. He has mental toughness and is very mature. He makes kids in an event feel important. He doesn't act like a superstar and is not aloof."
Moore believes Jones could break state records this spring in the high jump, long jump and triple jump. In fact, he feels he has a great shot at beating the national record in the triple jump.
Jones insists he is "wide open" when it comes to choosing a college. He definitely wants to go where the team throws the ball a lot and where he can start as a freshman. He has been asked the question so often that he has become somewhat inventive and even is injecting a touch of humor into his answers.
In a recent interview he jokingly said he was going to "Birmingham Southern." a Division III college where former Foley coach Joel Williams now works. It was his way of keeping media members - who ask the same question day after day - on their toes.
* In little more than one half Washaun Ealey, a 5-11, 205-pound junior, ran 13 times for 303 yards and seven touchdowns as Emanuel County Institute (Twin City, Ga.) routed Calvary Day (Savannah), 69-27. The state record is eight touchdowns.
* Eric Reynolds, a 5-10, 195-pound senior, ran 27 times for a school-record 401 yards and six touchdowns as Central Bucks South (Warrington, Pa.) nipped Abington, 49-45. Turning to Alabama, Ja'Michael Swain intercepted four passes in the second half as previously winless Dora defeated Warrior Corner, 41-21.
* Ansonia senior Alex Thomas is tearing up the turf in Connecticut. On Saturday he carried just seven times, but scored touchdowns on runs of 70, 69, 56 and 50 yards during a 48-0 whitewashing of Wolcott. One week earlier he ran for a state-record 518 yards on 44 carries and scored seven touchdowns in a 62-35 victory over Beacon Falls Woodland Regional.
* In Mesa, Ariz., Skyline junior Jared Smith boomed a 52-yard field goal to nip city foe Desert Ridge, 32-29, on the final play of the game. Desert Ridge had tied the game 42 seconds earlier. Switching to Nebraska, Pierce junior Eric Koehlmoos intercepted four passes, scoring twice, during a 39-10 victory over Norfolk Catholic.
* Devin Thomas' brilliant career at Madison (San Antonio, Texas) may be over after he suffered a dislocated ankle during Saturday's 42-14 victory over city rival Reagan. The reigning homecoming king had run for 335 yards and three touchdowns over 50 yards before he was injured with to play. The popular senior, who has committed to the University of Arkansas, ran for 374 yards and three touchdowns one week earlier before a crowd of 12,500 during a 29-14 win over powerful Smithson Valley (Spring Branch).
* Injury also has struck down one of the nation's leading quarterbacks, Parkway West (Ballwin, Mo.) senior Blaine Gabbert. The Nebraska recruit found out he had a separated shoulder just one day before his team's nationally-televised game against St. Louis Parkway North. Third-degree burns from an off-field mishap have sidelined Chandler senior tight end Dion Jordan, who is one of Arizona's elite college prospects.
* Northview (Duluth, Ga.) has seven team members who are sons of former NFL players. The players, with fathers in parentheses, are: quarterback Justin Tuggle (Jessie), wide receiver Xzavian Brandon (David), wide receiver Dan Stryzinski (Dan), two-way tackle Roman Fortin Jr. (Roman), linebacker Jake Whitehurst (David), linebacker Allen Tolbert (Will) and defensive end Brock Sanders (Eric). All are seniors except for Sanders, who is a junior.
* Highly-regarded Edison (Fresno, Calif.) senior safety Brandon Leslie (5-11, 200) has made a commitment to Georgia Tech.Melrose (Memphis, Tenn.) senior linebacker Antonio Harper (6-4, 220) says he will attend Miami (Fla.).Agoura (Calif.) junior offensive lineman Kevin Graf (6-6, 305) has made a commitment to the University of Southern California.
Football Coaching Notes
* Moeller (Cincinnati, Ohio) is going to name its athletic complex in honor of former head football coach and athletic director Gerry Faust. This includes football field, track, soccer and lacrosse fields. The official ceremonies will be held in August at which time an eight-foot high bronze statue of the legendary coach charging onto the field also will be unveiled.
* George Curry, age 62, posted his 400th coaching victory as Wyoming Valley West (Plymouth, Pa.) raced past Williamsport, 41-7. Curry won six state and two national titles while coaching at nearby Berwick.
* Russell (Ky.) coach Ivan McGlone notched his 300th victory during a 65-20 rout of Vanceburg Lewis County.Winning their 200th games were Jerry Brown of Berkeley (Moncks Corner, S.C.) and Laury Dupont of West St. John (Edgard, La.). Dupont had to be especially happy, because his team had lost its first five games.
* Antioch (Calif.) senior Tim Williams has made a commitment to Saint Mary's College (Moraga, Calif.). The 6-9, 230-pound senior averaged 17 points, eight rebounds and 5.85 blocks last year for a record-setting 23-5 team. He is the first Antioch player in 17 years to go Division I straight from high school. Coach John Woolery told MaxPreps, "His upside is big. He's very athletic, but just learning to play basketball. I think his numbers will be a lot better this year."
* Washington State has received commitments from Klay Thompson, a 6-5 shooting guard from Rancho Santa Margarita, Calif.; and Marcus Capers, a 6-4 defensive specialist from Montverde (Fla.) Academy. In a highly unusual act, WSU starting point guard Taylor Rochestie will give up his scholarship next year to make room for Capers.
* Vallivue (Caldwell, Idaho) senior guard Will Bogan has made a commitment to the University of Mississippi. The 6-1 point guard averaged 13.3 points and 3.5 assists last year.Barry Kirsch has resigned as girls basketball coach at Archbishop Carroll in Radnor, Pa. The 64-year-old coach compiled a 277-83 record and won four Philadelphia Catholic League titles in 13 years.
* National Player of the Year Alix Klineman is at Stanford. National Coach of the Year Dae Lea Aldrich has retired. However, defending national team champion Mira Costa (Manhattan Beach, Calif.) apparently doesn't want to give up its title. Under new coach Lisa Zimmerman, the Mustangs (13-0) solidified their current No. 1 ranking by defeating pre-season No. 1 Assumption (Louisville, Ky.), 25-18, 25-19, to win the nation's premier tournament, the Durango Fall Classic, in Las Vegas, Nev.
Senior setter Kendall Bateman earned MVP honors for the champs. Sophomore Falyn Fonoimoana used her 6-4 height to hammer 12 kills and Lane Carico had eight. Kaitlynn James had 10 kills for the losers. Assumption had lost twice to Mira Costa last year and each player had printed "revenge" on her shoes. That, of course, gave Mira Costa a little extra incentive, too.
* Hyannis Barnstable's Massachusetts state-record 110-match winning streak ended in California with a 25-18, 25-20, 23-25, 25-17 loss to Los Angeles Brentwood. Kara Cullen led Barnstable - which has won the last four state titles - with 27 kills.
* Chattanooga Baylor again dominated Tennessee's state golf tournament. The girls won their 13th consecutive Division II Class AA championship with 295 and their No. 1 player, Brooke Pancake, notched her record fourth straight individual crown with one-under-par 143. The Baylor boys won their fifth title in a row with a two-day total of 568 - 27 shots lower than the runner-up and the second-best score in tourney history (nine-under-par).
* Fourteen high school runners were overcome by unseasonable October heat (87 degrees, two short of the 1959 record) Saturday afternoon at the 26th annual Wickham Park Invitational cross country meet in Manchester, Conn. The final two races of the day had to be cancelled.
* Poway, Calif., senior baseball pitcher Brian Busick has made a commitment to Stanford. The 6-3, 195-pound right-hander has a career record of 18-2 and was recruited by over 60 colleges.Anderson (Cincinnati, Ohio) soccer coach Bill Miller posted his 200th victory with a 4-2 decision against city foe McNicholas.