Before Michael Jordan was making Bryon Russell fall with a killer crossover and draining the go ahead jumper to win his sixth NBA title with the Chicago Bulls, Jordan was a skinny, determined athlete dominating the competition at Laney High (Wilmington, N.C.).
Before Adrian Peterson was trucking opposing defenses and racking up 2,097 yards in a single season for the Minnesota Vikings he was shining bright under the Friday night lights at Palestine High (Palestine, Texas), averaging 12 yards a carry and scoring 32 touchdowns.
Before any athlete can become legendary they have to lay their foundation in the high school ranks.
Each week I’ll chat with a high-profile athlete’s former coach, mentor, family member, etc., and reminisce about their high school playing days; everything from the greatest moment to the wackiest story.
Today I caught up with Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Julio Jones’ high school coach at Foley (Foley, Ala.) Todd Watson, now the director of football operations at Troy University.
Jason Jordan: What’s your best memory of Julio on the field back in high school?
Todd Watson: Wow, man that’s a tough one because there were so many things that he did that really made you sit back and say, “Wow!” He had a big fourth quarter touchdown catch in a game against Daphne on ESPN2. It basically secured the win for us. That was a big moment because of the stage.
JJ: What’s your best memory of Julio off the field back then?
TW: Just his personality. He’s kind of a quiet guy, but once you get to know him you see his sense of humor. He’s really funny.
JJ: Besides football, what was his best sport?
TW: He played basketball and in track, had he just concentrated on that, he probably could’ve been an Olympian. He won states in the long jump, triple jump and placed in the high jump. He could’ve been world class at that for sure. In basketball he was a shot blocker because he could jump and he could really get off the floor quickly.
JJ: What’s the craziest story you can remember from his recruitment?
TW: So many things. Just to see the attention he was getting was crazy. USC used to come from the west coast to recruit him. Coaches came from all over all the time. Just listening to the different spiels from coaches from Les Miles to Bob Stoops to Jimbo Fisher to Nick Saban and to hear how different they were. Just hearing from him what he liked and didn’t like about all of them was interesting to me. I thought Julio did an exceptional job of putting all that attention aside and being a great teammate! He really blended in like a regular guy. He never wanted to be treated differently.
JJ: Did you always know he’d be at this level in the NFL?
TW: Well, I came to Foley in February of his freshman year, he’d already finished varsity as a freshman. It didn’t take long to see his obvious size and physical attributes. Plus, his work ethic was unmatched. He had unreal talent, but he worked like he had no talent and really wanted some. He’d always help the other guys in drills with tips and things like that. He was always trying to make his teammates better.
JJ: Is Julio a Hall of Famer?
TW: That’s tough to tell because Hall of Fame guys are guys that have proven with longevity. I will say this though; if he can stay healthy there’s no doubt in my mind that he’ll get there. He definitely has the talent and work ethic to do it. He handles himself well away from the field too; you don’t hear about incidents away from the field with him. I think if he can maintain his level of play over time he can definitely get there.
Here’s how Julio Jones got it done on the field and court in high school.
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