Former Alabama football star Julio Jones ready to take a run at another championship, NFL-style | Hurt

Cecil Hurt
The Tuscaloosa News

Phil Mickelson, at age 50, hoisted the Wanamaker Trophy after winning the PGA Championship last Sunday.

Tom Brady, at 43, tossed the Vince Lombardi Trophy, awarded to the Super Bowl champions, around the waters of Tampa Bay in a yacht parade last February. 

Julio Jones, who is 32, wants to touch a championship trophy again. While the age doesn’t seem prohibitive, and the occasional superstar can prolong a receiving career with savvy and skill (Jerry Rice played until age 41, although there aren’t many memories from his final season when he played for both Oakland and Seattle), the clock is ticking for Jones to make championship-level impact and find teams willing to pay his well-deserved but astronomical salary of around $15 million.

But for the time being, the only full-fledged championship ring in his undoubtedly expensive jewel box came when he was 19 years old and playing for Alabama’s BCS champions. Coming so agonizingly close against Brady and the Patriots in Super Bowl LI didn’t help.

Alabama wide receiver Julio Jones (8) hugs Alabama Coach Nick Saban after beating Florida in the SEC Championship Game at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta, Ga. on Saturday December 5, 2009.(Montgomery Advertiser, Mickey Welsh)

In Tuscaloosa, Jones’ status isn’t built on the statistics he accumulated under a different Nick Saban offensive philosophy. The numbers were good but are routinely surpassed in these more wide-open times. That’s why Jones’ eventual entry into the College Football Hall of Fame may rely on his pro numbers, acknowledged or not. But he has a symbolic status here, a sort of pass-catching personification of the start of the Saban Dynasty. 

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A quarterback's best friend

“I think Julio was as good as it gets, as good a teammate as I’ve ever had, college or pro,” said John Parker Wilson, the senior quarterback at Alabama during Jones’ freshman year of 2008, told The Tuscaloosa News on Monday. 

“He was one of the first mega-recruits,” Wilson said. “There had been five-star recruits, but I think ESPN was really getting in recruiting for the first time then, with the breaking news updates and the signing-ceremony special and all that. We had five-stars (like tackle Andre Smith) on the team, but not with that high profile. So we didn’t know what to expect."

It didn't take long for Jones' new teammates to see what all the fuss was about.

One of Falcons WR Julio Jones' most memorable performances occurred in 2019 on the road against the eventual NFC champion 49ers.

”He came in early, but back then early usually meant the start of the second summer session, so early July,” Wilson said. “Workouts were players-only, 7-on-7, no coaches. We’d go out, run some plays, try to get the new guys up to speed. So it was literally the first workout and Julio doesn’t even know the plays. But we run something to the end zone and I overthrow the ball and Julio just reaches up in the back of the end zone, goes over everybody and catches the ball. 

“I didn’t say anything except maybe, ‘Good play, man,’ but in my mind, I’m like, all right, here it is, this is who we’re throwing the ball to this year. This is who we are going to force the DBs to look at every play.

“Practice started in August, and all Julio did was work his butt off. He never expected anything. He got to Atlanta and was the same way. They’d traded up to get him, but he never expected special treatment. He was the ultimate locker-room guy.” 

Some 'Undisputed' comments

That’s why Jones’ comments to Shannon Sharpe on the FS1 network's “Undisputed” show Tuesday morning took some people by surprise and caused a good bit of social media speculation about whether Jones even knew he was being broadcast live. 

Jones has always been an “action speaks louder than words” person, but he’s also a grown man now and can speak his mind. Perhaps he feels that If he doesn’t speak now, the Falcons – even with Calvin Ridley, his heir apparent, and first-round draft choice Kyle Pitts – might not get it done. The window of teams willing to take on his salary, which could be negotiable, and give the Falcons something in return, will be far smaller in 2022. There remains almost no physical limitation on what Jones can do, but it seems that he has decided to begin his final race, the one against time, and touch another trophy.

Reach Cecil Hurt at cecil@tidesports.com or via Twitter @cecilhurt 

Sports columnist Cecil Hurt.