Alabama has had its share of recruiting talented players at the wide receiver position, including Tyrone Prothro, Marquis Maze, DJ Hall and Dareus Hanks. Last season, Kevin Norwood was the leading receiver for the Crimson Tide. He ended his career at the Capstone totaling 81 receptions for 1,275 yards and 12 touchdowns.
Obtaining national titles has helped Nick Saban conquer the recruiting aspect of football. Even with Norwood and Kenny Bell gone, Alabama returns Amari Cooper, DeAndrew White, Christion Jones, Chris Black and others to the fold next season.
Though the Tide has managed to remain relevant under Saban, there was a time when Tuscaloosa wasn’t the place to come for football. Despite the talent and physicality Alabama has at wide receiver now, the trend started in 2008 when a 6’4” 220-pound receiver rolled the dice and came to Tuscaloosa.
Hailing from Foley, Ala., Quintorris Lopez “Julio” Jones was the definition of big time, big play wide receiver. Jones attended and played football for Foley High School. He became a household name and was recognized for his amazing statistics. Jones was ranked as a five-star prospect in Rivals and Scout.com. He along with fellow receiver AJ Green (Georgia) was dubbed as being the class that brought back the tall, physical receiver.
As a freshman, Jones became a fan favorite and a key contributor. He had 58 receptions for 924 yards and four touchdowns. 76 percent (44 of 58) of his receptions went for first downs or touchdowns. Jones notched three 100-yard receiving performances against Tennessee, LSU and Florida. He helped the Tide achieve a 10-2 record in 2008 and amassed numerous individual awards, including SEC Freshman of the Year (Associated Press and Sporting News) and first-team Freshman All-American (Football Writers Association of American and Sporting News).
Despite battling injuries in 2009, Jones came up clutch when Alabama needed him the most. As a sophomore, he had a team-best 43 receptions for 596 yards and four touchdowns. 60 percent (26 of 43) of his receptions went for first downs or touchdowns. His shinning moment came in the matchup against LSU. Jones had his fourth career 100-yard receiving game against the Tigers. He totaled four receptions for 102 yards, including a 73-yard touchdown reception from Greg McElroy.
Jones’s touchdown reception came via screen pass. He was able to side step LSU’s defensive back Brandon Taylor and took the pass to pay dirt. The score helped Alabama secure a 24-15 win against the Tigers. Against Auburn, Jones set a career-high with nine receptions for 83 yards. He answered the bell on the Tide’s final drive of game. On the drive, Jones racked up four receptions for 33 yards. All four of his receptions were third down conversions. Alabama went on to defeat Auburn 26-21.
Though his numbers weren’t huge in the SEC title game against Florida and in the 2010 BCS National Championship Game against Texas, Alabama wouldn’t have achieved success without Jones’s contributions.
In 2010, Jones returned to the Crimson Tide roster. He came back healthy and ready to aggravated opposing defenses. In his junior season, Jones blossomed. He had 78 receptions for 1,133 yards and seven touchdowns (4th in school history). He totaled 100+ yards receiving in four games (Auburn, South Carolina, Tennessee and Duke) with his finest performance coming against Tennessee. Jones torched the Volunteers secondary with 12 receptions for 221 yards.
Jones’s finished his career with eight 100-yard receiving games. He’s second in school history for this accomplishment. He finished with 179 career receptions (2nd in school history) for 2,653 yards (2nd in school history) and 15 touchdowns (4th in school history).
Instead of returning for his senior year, Jones decided to pursue the National Football League. The Atlanta Falcons selected him in the first round as the sixth overall pick. The same drive and work ethic he had at Alabama, Jones brought it to Atlanta. He recorded his first touchdown of the 2011 season in Week 9 against the Indianapolis Colts. Jones finished his rookie season with 54 receptions for 959 yards and eight touchdowns (led all rookies).
In second season with the Falcons, Jones’s productivity increased. He recorded 79 receptions for 1,198 yards and 10 touchdowns. This performance notched him a spot at the 2012 NFL Pro Bowl. Despite starting off well, Jones suffered a foot injury in 2013. His season ended with just 41 receptions for 580 yards and two touchdowns.
It was the play making ability of Jones that inspired many receivers to come to Alabama. Prior to Jones, not too many physical receivers would suite up in crimson and white. He was superstar at Bryant-Denny Stadium and he has carried the professional attitude to the NFL. Yes, the recruiting pool has been great to the Tide in recent seasons, but fans must always remember that the to greatness under Saban started with Julio Jones.