NFL star & Saban’s most important recruit sends Christmas spirit home to Foley

NFL star & Saban’s most important recruit sends Christmas spirit home to Foley
One of Foley’s most famous sons, NFL star Julio Jones, sent the Christmas spirit home with a truckload of gifts for children in the community. The Tennessee Titans wide receiver teamed up with two major names in the hip hop music industry, Lil Baby and Polow Da Don, to organize a Christmas giveaway at Aaronville Park in Foley in December.
Jones and Lil Baby were unable to make the trip, but Polow Da Don was on site, as people in hundreds of cars patiently waited their turn to have their vehicle loaded. Bikes, hoverboards, and oversized plush animals were among items hurried into trunks.
Jones’ brother, Phillip Jones, said the semi-truck slammed full of toys was sent with the intent of making sure every child in Foley had the opportunity to have a Merry Christmas.
“My brother just found it in his heart to give back to the community,” Jones said. “We came from here. We know a lot of kids aren’t able to have Christmas. We’re here. We’re having fun. We just want a great Christmas for everyone.”
By the time he graduated from Foley in 2008, Jones was considered the No. 1 football recruit in the nation by numerous media outlets, including ESPN, and was the no. 3 recruit overall. He led the Lions to a 30-5 record during his final three years following the school’s first ever winless season in 2004. In an interview with Vice Sports, Julio’s youth coach said, “Julio Jones at 11 years old, I thought could start for Foley High School then.”
Julio hauled in 194 career receptions for 3,287 yards and 39 touchdowns at Foley. He led the Lions to the 6A state quarterfinals in 2007. The Alabama Gatorade Football Player of the Year as a senior, he drew fans from all over South Alabama to the same field where Ken Stabler played 40 years earlier. And it was evident even then that he was destined to play in the NFL.
Jones was a running back until his sophomore year at Foley. At 6′ 3″ and about 200 pounds, he dwarfed his peers, and he was stronger than most defensive linemen.
Todd Watson took over the Foley program that a winless team, moved Julio to receiver, installed a spread attack and started winning games.
At one point during his recruiting period, Julio was meeting with Nick Saban inside the high school while Urban Meyer, Bob Stoops and Tommy Tuberville waited outside in the parking lot for their turn.
In addition to his football prowess, Julio was named Mr. Alabama in track and field and was the state’s Gatorade Track and Field Athlete of the Year in 2007. He set school records in the high jump, long jump and triple jump and earned three Class 6A track titles. He was also a good enough hoopster to play D-1 basketball.
He is credited with giving the nomadic Saban credibility at a time when The Tide was coming off a 7-6 season, and fans worried the man now known as St. Nick would depart for greener pastures.
Instead, Julio and his fellow 2008 recruits helped Saban win the first of his six national titles in T-Town. A mild-mannered, gritty, and determined worker willing to put individual contributions aside for the betterment of the team, Julio was also the Tide’s best blocking wideout.
The Athletic ranked Julio’s signing at Alabama as Nick Saban’s most important ever, stating the 2008 recruiting class was Saban’s first on his own, and Jones was the cherry on top of what was already a great class. Plus Saban beat out Oklahoma, a prolific passing team, to sign Julio.
When Jones put on his Alabama hat in a packed Foley High gym, it sent the country a message that Alabama was back. Not known yet, was that Jones would help set the culture of Alabama football with his unmatched work ethic.
Jones was the first true freshman wide receiver to start a season-opener at Alabama. In his three seasons, he caught 179 passes for 2,653 yards and 15 touchdowns.
“I think he changed the culture of the work ethic of skill players on offense, which is really important to turning around a program because he’s such a hard worker,’’ Saban said. “He had so much mental and physical toughness in terms of the way he competed and the way he played. And it was really unusual for a receiver to be that way. Whether it was a running play or a passing play, it really didn’t matter. He was trying to excel on that play. And he did it with tremendous tenacity. Most of the time receivers want the ball. And if they’re not getting the ball, they’re over there pouting some place. He changed all of that. He made players look at what you had to do to be a complete player at that position, which was a huge benefit for us.’’
After his junior season, Jones declared for the NFL Draft. The Falcons gave up five draft picks to the Cleveland Browns to move up to the No. 6 spot in the 2011 draft to get Jones. And it is still considered one of the best decisions the team ever made.
Widely considered the best wide receiver of his generation, Jones is a future Hall of Famer. He ranks No. 1 in NFL history in receiving yards per game and has two first-team All-Pro nods and seven Pro Bowl selections.
Now a Tennessee Titan, he amassed 180 yards and two touchdowns in the NFC championship game to help launch the Atlanta Falcons to Super Bowl 51.