- Associated Press - Thursday, October 28, 2010

TUSCALOOSA, ALA. (AP) - Julio Jones‘ broken left hand hurts whenever the ball hits it.

Last Saturday was a wonderfully painful night for No. 6 Alabama’s star receiver. The fan favorite collected 12 catches for a school-record 221 yards at Tennessee two weeks after having pins and screws inserted into his hand.

“My hand hurts every time I catch the ball,” he said.

It’s a pain he’ll readily endure for games like that. They come infrequently even for Jones in an offense where running often comes first and 300-yard passing games are nearly as rare as October snow in the Deep South.

The 6-foot-4, 220-pounder has put up bigger numbers than ever going into Alabama’s first open date. He had eight catches against South Carolina despite breaking his hand in the first half. Jones swore strength coach Scott Cochran to secrecy on the sidelines.

“I was like, ‘I think I broke my hand,’” he said. “I told him don’t tell anybody, we’ll just wait until halftime and see. It’s just a mental thing. I just blocked it out.”

He aggravated the injury against Mississippi and only had one catch, but came back with his third 100-yard game of the season _ and then some. That matches his total from the previous two years.

Jones ranks second in the SEC in receiving yards per game, catching 45 passes for 669 yards through eight games.

Coach Nick Saban summoned him to his office the Sunday before the Tennessee game to check on his hand.

“His response to me was, ‘I don’t want to be held out of anything. I want to practice and do everything. I need to practice and do everything if I’m going to do well in the game,’” Saban said.

And he did.

Fast, physical and athletic, Jones has been one of the Tide’s most popular players since arriving on campus. He was elected to the Student Government Association’s Senate as a freshman through write-in votes _ though he didn’t campaign. Fans chant “Juuuuu” (rhymes with “boo”) whenever he makes a big catch, and a collection of his highlights has drawn nearly 450,000 views on YouTube.

The junior is projected as a likely first-round NFL draft. But Jones has done it without the personal flamboyance and love for attention that some other big-name receivers crave, answering reporters’ questions with “Yes sir.”

“I think Julio’s more of a guy that’s going to go out and do what he has to do on the field,” said safety Robert Lester, who grew up about a block from Jones. “Whatever comes along with it, comes along with it. Just like when we were being recruited, he wasn’t worried about what school was offering him. He was just maintaining his play on the field and making sure he gave our team the best opportunities to win.”

Jones came to Tuscaloosa as one of the nation’s top recruits out of Foley High School in south Alabama. He celebrated his first touchdown in his Alabama debut against No. 9 Clemson by immediately flipping the ball to the official.

“He’s a great football player and he’s a guy that does everything right, whether it’s on the field or in the classroom,” center William Vlachos said. “He treats everybody with respect, and he doesn’t think he’s better than anybody else walking around this building. He’s a great guy for the young guys to look at.”

Jones set all of the school freshman receiving yards, though his numbers declined last season amid injuries.

Jones insists he has never wondered what it would be like to play in an offense more geared toward passing. One where he’s not sharing the ball with Heisman Trophy winner Mark Ingram and fellow tailback Trent Richardson.

“I really don’t care about numbers,” he said. “It’s why I picked this school, because I want to win championships. I’m a team player. I don’t want to be just, ‘Why aren’t you throwing the ball to me?’ I like to block and everything else. I just want to be involved in special teams, anything.”

Against Tennessee, his primary role was catching balls. And the Volunteers had no answer.

“I think I kind of realized that probably the second play of the game,” quarterback Greg McElroy said. “They had pretty good coverage on him and we were able to put one on the sideline. It just worked out perfectly.

“It’s almost _ I wouldn’t say it’s disrespect, but any time they press Julio without a safety over the top, it’s kind of, ‘What are you doing?’ That’s kind of what I’m thinking.”

Tennessee coach Derek Dooley laughed when asked if he tried to find schemes to stop Jones. He said Jones just ran by Vols cornerbacks sometimes.

“If you sit there and say we are going to take Julio out of the game, then you are going to say why didn’t you do something about Mark Ingram and Trent Richardson?” Dooley said. “You’ve got to put your energy somewhere and it’s hard. It’s why they’ve won as much as they’ve won.”


AP Sports Writer Beth Rucker in Knoxville, Tenn., contributed to this report.



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