The End of the Road for Jones Mike Frank - IrishEyes.com March 30, 2004 at 8:19am ET Much has been written about Julius Jones over the last year. Jones has changed environments and climates this past year more times that most people do in a lifetime. The good news for Jones is all of his zip code's and hard work will finally pay off in just a few short weeks. Julius Jones worked through some rough times these past two years, all with two goals in mind"to graduate and to get to the NFL. Jones will get his shot at the NFL in a few short weeks and is one class shy of graduating from Notre Dame"something he vows he'll do. Julius and I sat down and had a conversation about this past year and the road back. Nobody is smiling as big as Julius Jones these days. The road began when Julius Jones found himself out of school at Notre Dame and out of football"a day he remembers well. "It was a pretty low day for me," said Jones. "I tried to come back here and see if there was anything I could do and there was nothing I could do. From then on, I had to figure out what I had to do next. I talked with my parents and my brother and we decided the best thing for me to do was to go out to Arizona State and spends some time with my brother. I decided to take some classes there and to try to get back in here at Notre Dame." Julius' brother Thomas is one of his closest allies and friends. Julius went to live with his older brother, and it was not long before Thomas had his own battle to fight, being injured in the NFL. "I was out there taking classes at A.S.U. and we both talked about how if we trained really hard, how good things could happen for us," said Julius. "It's amazing what one year can do for you. If you look at both of our situations, everything turned out pretty good for us." Julius is now slotted to be taken on the first day of the NFL draft this month by most experts after a career season at Notre Dame, and Thomas just signed a 10 million dollar contract with the Chicago Bears. Julius says things couldn't have worked out better for he and Thomas. "We talked about it"all the hard work. Going to Gold's gym at three in the morning, all the weight we lifted, the running, it's been a long road for both of us. He's still in the NFL and I'm close to getting there. Ever since we were little we've talked about this. Right now it looks like it's close to happening." Jones says he knows all of this almost slipped away from him and he's thankful that didn't happen. "I just thank God for the opportunity because I could be in a different situation right now. I definitely appreciate everything I have." After closing his career rushing for 1,268 yards, 5.5 yards per carry and scoring 10 touchdowns for the Irish last season, Julius Jones wanted to go celebrate with and thank his brother. "After the last game I went down to Tampa for a little while to hang out with my brother because I hadn't seen him for a while. I actually got to go to one of his games and we hung out and had a great time"it was great to see him again. We started working out after the new year." The climb up the draft charts started in the winter training for the Senior Bowl. The training paid off as Jones was the most talked about running back during Senior Bowl practices. "I spoke to a couple of guys down there. They told me I was doing real well and to keep it up. They said I was surprising a lot of people. It was very encouraging. It was just a great opportunity for me to play with the best players in the country and show everybody what I'm capable of doing." A good Senior Bowl showing created a buzz for Jones, but he knew his draft status would depend on his showing at the NFL Combine in Indianapolis. Jones says he went back to the place where his road back began"Phoenix. "I actually left there after the Senior Bowl and worked out in Phoenix. Basically it was speed training and weight training. I worked out twice a day, every day, except Saturday was a half day and Sunday we had off. I just worked hard on my speed training." "You start thinking everything is riding on this," said Jones of the pressure to perform at the combine. "Peewee football, eighth grade, high school, college, everything you've worked for is all riding on this. Some people choose not to workout at the combine. I looked at it as everything I've ever worked for has come down to this. I just wanted to have the best performance of my life and I feel real confident about what I did there." The Virginia native did have an outstanding performance as Jones recorded an impressive 40 time and caught the football very well almost assuring a draft position on the first day. "They had me at 4.38 and 4.43. It was a load off my back, that's for sure. I was walking back from my first one to run my second one and one of the guys told me "you just made some money on that one" so I kind of had a feeling I did well on my first one." The testing is only one part of the combine. The interview process can be as grueling and stressful as the testing. Jones says he was ready for all the questions he was sure would be coming. "They ask you personal questions. Of course they asked me about the year I was off, but I expected that"that didn't bother me at all." "It depends on the team," said Jones on what types of questions an athlete would be asked. "Some teams come at you like an interrogation, some don't. It's like a job interview I guess. Being at Notre Dame kind of prepared me for having that spotlight on me. I kind of had a big spotlight on me there so it wasn't a big deal to me." April 24th can't get here soon enough for Jones"the day he's hoping to be drafted. He's not sure where he'll be when his name is called, but he's certain he'll be with those that are closest to him. "I'm not exactly sure where I'm going to be. I need to be somewhere where I can get cell phone service. I don't get that in the mountains (his family lives in the mountains in Virginia). I'll be with my parents, my family, my friends, I'll have a bunch of people there. Hopefully we'll be celebrating on the first day." The road is about to end for Julius. He's overcome the bumps in the road, but realizes it's just another in the many roads in life. "It's going to be a big day for me-all the things I've been through. I've wanted to do this my whole life. I can't really imagine how I'm going to feel or how I'm going to react when I hear my name. That and graduating will probably be the biggest things I've done with my life. It's only going to be a new beginning though. Getting there is only part of it, staying there is what I'm working for." Jones says he'll also be thrilled to share this joy with those that have walked the road with him"his family and friends. "That will be huge for me. I'm a family person and I love my family. I definitely appreciate my family and my friends that stood by me in all of this. I'll be very happy to have them with me for this." Jones wanted everyone to know that he's definitely going to graduate. "I've got one more class to take," said Jones. "I'll probably take that class next spring, but I'm definitely going to take it. That is just as important as the NFL." The most impressive thing I can say about Jones is that he handled a very difficult situation with class. He never once shucked his responsibility and met every question head on when he returned to Notre Dame. This road will end for Julius on the 24th, but a new road will begin. We expect Jones to be on the NFL road for quite some time.