News: Chicago Tribune Article Re: Julius Jones. (Good Read)

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    Jones' support system paying off
    NFL dream near for 2 brothers
    By David Haugh
    Tribune staff reporter

    April 21, 2004, 9:25 PM CDT

    When the Jones brothers were little boys in Big Stone Gap, Va., they liked nothing more than running around in the back yard with a football. Eventually, they became fast enough to keep up with their imaginations.

    "Ever since we were kids, I would be [former Giants running back] Joe Morris and he would be [former Redskins running back] Jamie Morris," Bears running back Thomas Jones recalled of his childhood with brother Julius, three years younger. "Now it's like, this is really going to happen."

    It figures to happen Saturday at the NFL draft when Julius Jones, the former Notre Dame running back, fulfills the brothers' boyhood dream. In other words, Eli and Peyton Manning won't be the only brother tandem on draft day taking a friendly sibling rivalry to an NFL backfield.

    "Thomas has been really instrumental in getting me to this point," Julius Jones said. "He was a first-round pick and his career really hasn't gone the way that he wanted, but he has stayed in there and taught me to hang tough and don't give up."

    Especially when Julius Jones felt like giving up everything in the summer of 2002. Academic problems had knocked him out of Notre Dame and off-track to stardom. He moved in with Thomas in Phoenix, enrolled in classes at Arizona State and suddenly the Jones brothers felt as if they were growing up with each other a second time.

    And grow up they did.

    The brothers began running around together again, side by side, stride for stride, in the desert heat. They shared their tales of unfulfillment; the Arizona Cardinals had labeled Thomas a bust, and Julius had become the symbol of squandered potential under the Golden Dome. Their failures fueled them.

    Suddenly, keeping up with the Joneses meant getting up earlier, staying later and sweating more than ever.

    "Julius worked harder than anyone I've ever seen," Thomas Jones said. "We had a chance to bond together for a year, and it was cool. That's my best friend, my brother."

    Seeing what his older brother endured in Arizona steeled Julius for what awaited him at Notre Dame and in the NFL.

    When the Cardinals criticized Thomas Jones publicly and privately in the fall of 2002 for breaking his hand when he says he slammed down a telephone, for example, it helped Thomas to lean on Julius for support. But it probably helped Julius more to play the role of supporter and show responsibility he didn't know he had.

    "It was probably fortunate for him to see me go through that in Arizona," Thomas said. "He saw some of the things I went through, and that helped him grow."

    Julius added: "I'm a stronger person than I thought."

    He returned to Notre Dame last summer mentally and physically stronger than ever. Coach Tyrone Willingham, who questioned Jones' leadership skills during the spring of 2002, noted the changes. Teammates noticed a difference. The player who looked like a Heisman Trophy candidate midway through his freshman season was back.

    "I was definitely hungrier," Jones said.

    But Willingham's loyalty to returning starter Ryan Grant kept Jones out of the starting lineup until the sixth game of the season. He still finished with 1,341 yards on 229 carries and broke the 200-yard barrier three times, including a school-record 262-yard effort against Pittsburgh.

    Jones had opened some eyes around the NFL.

    "It kind of put my name out there a little bit," Jones said.

    Running a 4.4-second 40-yard dash at the NFL combine in February elevated that name toward the top of the list of running backs. Projections have the 5-foot-10-inch, 215-pound Jones going between the second and fourth rounds, with Dallas among the teams showing the most interest.

    Teams worry most whether Jones can catch the ball or block. Several scouts have said they aren't worried about his character.

    "He's not a bad kid," Bears director of college scouting Greg Gabriel said. "For a team that has a real need at running, he could be a real good fit. He's a lot like his brother."

    To Julius Jones, that's a bigger compliment than calling him a future All-Pro.
    Copyright © 2004, The Chicago Tribune

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