Okay, I may have exaggerated with the title a bit because I’ll admit, Julius Jones probably isn’t the best back in Notre Dame history. But since I began following the Irish, in my opinion, he is. Now, I’m only 23, so I never really saw guys like Allen Pinkett, Reggie Brooks, Jerome Bettis or Rickie Watters. I vaguely remember seeing Autry Denson play, but hold no vivid memories of him. Unfortunately, I was never a witness to some backs that are held much higher in Notre Dame lore.
Nevertheless, Julius Jones was one of my first favorite players, with Jarious Jackson being the other. I remember I had both a #7 and a #22 Champion jersey. That was back in the days when you could get a jersey at the bookstore that didn’t cost you $100+. Jones wasn’t all that big, but he was still able to run through you and then run by you with his exciting speed.
Jones played for the Irish from 1999-2001, 2003. Everyone remembers that 2002 team starting off 8-0, but some will forget that Jones should have been on that team. Jones was suspended for the 2002 season for academic reasons. Now, as Pat pointed out in his post about Vontez Duff, that 2002 team had little to no offensive punch. I can’t help to think how much of a difference Jones would have made if he was eligible that season.
Of course, Jones did come back for his senior season in 2003 and did not disappoint. In 12 games he rushed for 1,268 yards on 229 attempts (5.9 YPC), and also scored 10 touchdowns. In that season, I remember him exploding for a single-game, school record 262 yards in a win at Pittsburgh, which was perhaps the highlight of that ugly, ugly season. Jones finished his career fifth on Notre Dame’s all-time rushing list with 3,018 yards.
The other memory I have of Jones, and it’s probably one other Irish fans have, is the Nebraska game in 2000. I was 6 at the time, but I have three vivid memories of that game. First, the stadium being filled with red, as Nebraska fans travel like no other. The second was my dad calling Eric Crouch, “Eric Crotch”. Lastly, I remember Jones returning a kickoff for a touchdown and the stadium going bananas.
Our fearless leader Joshua Vowles wrote about how Justin Tuck never seems to get the credit he deserves as a Notre Dame legend. I agree with him, and I also would put Jones into that category. At Notre Dame, legendary status is usually given to guys who played on great teams or won big time awards. That’s where I believe Tuck and Jones get dinged, because they never played on really great teams.
In its long and storied history Notre Dame has had a long list of great running backs, so it is hard to pick one that is above the rest. But since I’ve been following the Irish (2000-Present), it is hard to find one that was better than Julius Jones.