Maybe Julio Jones' contribution to the Tide in this, his freshman year, wasn't a surprise to some. Certainly, the scouts and Coach Saban saw something in this young man from Foley, Alabama, that garnered plenty of attention.
With the exception of the most avid Alabama fans who watch the recruiting articles and read up on the scouting reports, it was difficult to anticipate the immediate impact Jones would make for the team.
The first-year wide receiver scored his first collegiate touchdown in the opener against Clemson and hasn't let up since.
Recently, I had an opportunity to discuss the Tide and its players with a Vols fan and an Auburn fan. Normally, we're as polite as possible in discussing football with the fans of top rivals. However, I was very shocked when the topic turned to Jones.
Sure, I know he's an excellent athlete and a young man with a wonderful career ahead of him, barring anything unfortunate, a la Tyrone Prothro. But to hear a Vols fan and an Auburn fan gushing over an Alabama player just seemed weird.
"He reminds me of a cross between Terrell Owens and Randy Moss," the Auburn fan said. (Sports Illustrated also compared him to Owens in terms of height, size, and on-field presence and listed him as a top 10 wide receiver before the season.)
"He's better than any receiver Tennessee has had in years and years," the Vols fan said.
"He's the kind of guy we needed after D.J. Hall graduated," I said.
"If the ball's anywhere within five yards of him, he seems to catch it," the Auburn fan said.
"Besides the great hands, he's big and physical and he fights for every yard he can get," the Vols fan said
And so it continued. It felt like a regular Julio Jones pep rally with guys who normally wear orange on Saturdays. Very strange.
They showed a graphic during the Mississippi State/Alabama game Saturday night. I can't cite the exact numbers, but it seems that although Jones had a lot more touchdowns earlier in the year, he has a lot more catches in the latter part of the season.
In nearly every game, it seems that whether he makes a catch for a key first down, a long ball, or a touchdown, he manages to make his presence felt in some way.
Tonight, Jones made a clutch catch against Miss. St., taking it down inside the one-yard line to all but ice the game. But that's just business as usual for Jones.
It would be difficult to count how many momentum-building touchdown catches in tight games he has.
Several times tonight, I heard Dr. Lou Holtz (insert laughter here) mention that Alabama just "doesn't have a big-time playmaker as teams like Florida have." I had to wonder if he has ever turned off his taped games of his golden years at Notre Dame long enough to have seen Jones play.
I get the feeling that we'd better enjoy him for the rest of this year and next year, because after that, I'd wager that NFL teams will be licking their chops to get their mitts on him.
And who could blame him if he went for the kind of dough he's bound to command playing on Sundays?
Jones may not get the fanfare of Crabtree at Texas Tech or Harvin at Florida, but as long as he just keeps going out and getting it done, the Tide's offense has a dimension and a pair of hands that are doing just fine picking up where D.J. Hall left off.
It will be interesting to see this young man develop and reach his potential, which hopefully means him grabbing a load of TDs for the Tide along the way.
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