Tide's Jones balances football, faith and school

By John Zenor

Associated Press

Published: Thursday, Dec. 29 2011 1:16 p.m. MST

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Barrett Jones has a confession to make: He's horrible at fantasy football.

"It's a lot of fun, except for I'm last in my league, which is really frustrating," Alabama's left tackle Jones said, shaking his head.

Don't despair; he seems to have just about everything else going for him.

Jones graduated in three years with a 4.0 GPA in accounting, won the Outland Trophy as college football's top interior lineman and also has helped the second-ranked Crimson Tide reach the national championship game against No. 1 LSU.

Tailback Trent Richardson fondly calls him a "nerd." Tight end Brad Smelley comes up empty when asked if he had any interesting stories about Jones.

"He's probably the most straight-laced guy I know," Smelley said.

But Jones has a special talent: He can make coach Nick Saban gush with praise.

"I don't think there's enough good things that you can say about Barrett Jones," Saban said. "He's, I think, as fine a person as you're ever going to be around — me or you or anyone else — in terms of his willingness to serve other people."

That has meant helping build a school and orphanage in Haiti on mission trips the past two spring breaks and hauling a chainsaw around Tuscaloosa, Ala., to help with cleanup after a deadly April tornado.

A three-time Academic All-American, Jones has played violin since age 3 and helped form a Scrabble team in high school that finished 15th at nationals.

Jones, who is from Memphis, favors clean-cut entertainment fare: John Grisham books, Tom Hanks movies and Sunday afternoons — after church, of course — watching football with his buddies.

And he's as balanced off the field as on it — where he has played every spot on the line this season except right guard, where he started the previous two years.

Jones hasn't indicated whether his short-term plan includes coming back for his senior season or entering the NFL draft.

The Tide's previous Outland winners — Chris Samuels and Andre Smith — were drafted third and sixth, respectively. Jones's stock doesn't appear to be that high but being a versatile 6-foot-5, 311-pounder doesn't hurt.

Jones moved to left tackle late last spring, and that's where he's logged all 10 of his starts, missing two games with an ankle injury sustained in the first LSU game.

"He's obviously played some fantastic football for us," Saban said. "And a guy that can play multiple positions like he can and execute and do those things well speaks volumes of the kind of athletic intuition, how smart he is as a football player, the kind of ability he has as a football player. I can't say enough about what he's accomplished since he's been here and what he might be able to accomplish in the future."

Jones has won the SEC's Jacobs Blocking Trophy and the Wuerffel Trophy for community service along with academic and athletic success.

"I still think of myself as a normal guy," Jones said. "It is funny. I really don't think about all these kind of awards. I guess I set a goal to be an All-American and win a national championship, but you get so wrapped up focusing on the next play and day to day, that you kind of lose track of all these awards

"I just try to come to work every day and do my job. Apparently, I do that job all right."

His father, Rex, a former Alabama basketball player, likes to say Barrett makes up for any deficiencies in talent with his smarts. Until junior high, he was more like an ungainly lab puppy.

"He would run and fall," Rex Jones said. "I'd look at his mother and laugh and say, 'I'm not sure he's ever going to make it.'"

Jones grew into his body, and he learned a bit about what makes a dominant left tackle as a backup defensive end in the ninth grade pressed into action against current Baltimore Raven tackle Michael Oher.

"I really think that was one of those things that challenged Barrett to help him be who he was on the football field," said his dad, a longtime friend and next-door neighbor to Saban's agent, Jimmy Sexton. "Michael really played at about 360, Barrett weighed 230.

"It was a man against boys. He had his way with Barrett after Barrett made a few tackles."

Jones used it as sort of a Left Tackle 101 learning experience, just like the violin helped instill discipline and Scrabble fed his competitiveness and intellect.

"He is a great student, just because he really, really wants to learn," said his mother, Leslie. "When he learns something, he remembers it and retains it and applies it to his life.

"He's really interested. It's really a gift to have, because it makes learning so much more fun if you care."

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