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Julio Jones was biggest ‘culture changer’ for Alabama, per Nick Saban

Photo of Julio Jones wearing No. 2 for the Tennessee Titans
Photo of Julio Jones wearing No. 2 for the Tennessee Titans comes via Twitter

He is one of the greatest wide receivers in the National Football League, and he’s spending his 11th season with the Tennessee Titans.

At 32 years old, Julio Jones has accomplished seven 1,000-yard seasons, five 1,400-yard seasons, two first-team All-Pro selections, seven Pro Bowl selections, and making the NFL 2010s All-Decade Team. He was the face of the Atlanta Falcons for ten years (2011-20) and was the reason for Matt Ryan winning the NFL’s Most Valuable Player honor in 2016.

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Before he was a dominant pro athlete, Jones changed the game at receiver in college at the University of Alabama.

Julio Jones runs for a touchdown for Alabama in 2011 Capital One Bowl versus Michigan State

The 6-foot-3, 220-pounder ushered in the big-bodied target for college football. People were not only taken back by his size, but he also demonstrated exceptional hands, speed, routes, balance, and body control. He was the toast of the 2008 recruiting cycle and stamped Nick Saban as an elite recruited when he chose the Crimson Tide over Auburn.

During his career, Jones totaled 179 catches for 2,653 receiving yards with 15 touchdowns.

He posted a 1,000-yard season in 2010, collecting 1,133 yards with seven scores on 78 receptions. Jones won SEC Freshman of the Year (2008), first-team All-SEC (2010), an SEC champion (2009), and a BCS National Champion (2009). His output for catches, yards, and touchdowns ranks in the top-10 in school history. Jones got selected at No. 6 overall in the 2011 NFL Draft. Despite the impressive first recruiting class of the Nick Saban era, he hails Jones as the biggest ‘culture changer’ that returned the program to winning championships.

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“He was one of the most highly-touted players at his position, and probably one of the best players in the country,” Saban said of Jones. “Being from Alabama, it was probably one of the most important things that ever happened in the program. When Julio, Mark Barron, all those guys that came in the first class, Dont’a Hightower, there were probably six to seven first-round draft picks, they all came here when we weren’t any good. We were coming off a 6-6 season, so they came here, and they believed. They trusted in what we were trying to do to create a program, and they wanted to prove something. There was nobody we had that was a better leader, or did more to enhance the culture of toughness and effort than Julio Jones did. He used to run down on kickoff and would not come off the kickoff team during the game. There were a lot of guys that made an impact in the early years, but Julio was the guy who led the way.”

Since Jones’ impact, Alabama has had two successful in-state receivers – Christion Jones and Henry Ruggs III – while recruiting major talents out of state. The Crimson Tide has won five more national championships since Jones left.

He got “The Process” started, and Saban is forever grateful to him for giving Alabama an opportunity. The seven-time national champion is now looking for the leadership Jones provided in players on this team as it pushes for a title.

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Stephen M. Smith is the managing editor and senior writer for Touchdown Alabama Magazine.  You can “like” him on Facebook or “watch” him on Twitter, via @CoachingMSmith.

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