By Ross Jones, FOXSports.com
The days of the diva wide receiver in the NFL are well and done.
While me-first players have washed out of the league, team guys like Calvin Johnson, A.J. Green and Julio Jones have emerged on the scene. For Jones, it has always been like that.
“I never knew what a diva was as far as being a wide receiver,” Jones told FOXSports.com in June. “While I was growing up, I was kind of the leader.”
Jones wasn’t always a wide receiver. During his freshman season at Foley High School (Foley, Ala.), he thrived on the varsity squad at running back. The offense was built around the running game and Jones showed the vision and quickness to be productive between the tackles.
The next season, head coach Todd Watson took over the program and installed a spread offense that challenged defenses down the field. Once the coach caught a glimpse of Jones, he knew he had something special.
“That was one of the things that stood out,” Watson said. “To see him in the weight room, you could’ve done an anatomy class on him because he had every muscle feature and structure.”
During spring football, Jones witnessed how aggressive the new offense was going to be. Watson made the decision to switch Jones to wide receiver.
“We wanted to put four wide receivers on the field at a time,” Watson said. “Obviously we had to move some guys around and do some shuffling and certainly with his height, speed, jumping ability and hands it was a no brainer.”
The 6-foot-4, 211-pound specimen instantly showed a natural comfort at wide receiver and it proved to be the right decision. Jones hauled in 51 receptions for 805 yards and eight touchdowns as a sophomore and was just the beginning of a decorated career.
“When I was at receiver I was the leader and everybody fed off me,” Jones said. “Everyone was kind of like me. There were never any divas. We were always going to block and get dirty.”
Pairing his elite athleticism with a relentless work ethic, Jones began to make a name for himself. Both Jones and Watson admit that he loves the weight room and uses each workout to push himself.
The swarm of media attention picked up steam following a big-time performance at a 7-on-7 tourney in Birmingham going into his junior season. It was the first time people got to see Jones go up against elite competition and he dominated. His rare combination of size and speed separated him from the pack, which kicked off major national interest. Jones began to field offers from nearly every major school and the attention became a little much.
“It really was crazy,” Watson said. “Even to this day, he’s still a quiet and introverted guy. He’s not one who likes all of the attention and people clamoring all over him. I think at first, as any teenager would be, it was exciting that people know who you are, but then it gets to a point where it’s overbearing.”
Jones lived up to the massive expectations his senior season and announced his decision to attend the Alabama over Oklahoma on Signing Day. He repelled the media attention and kept a low profile, something that he maintains to this day.