TUSCALOOSA — Ask any Alabama football player about Christion Jones and they smile.
He’s like the class clown in the lecture hall not known for giggles.
But the good times ran thin for the Crimson Tide sophomore receiver early this spring. He was pressing, coach Nick Saban said.
So the teacher called him to his office.
“(Jones) was trying to do everything perfectly,” Saban said. “Really hadn’t played receiver that much and was trying to run everything exactly right. I said, ‘Look man, just play fast.’ ”
Randy Cook, Jones’ coach at Minor High School, also had a chat with his former player late last month after visiting an Alabama practice.
“I didn’t feel like he stood out. He looked like everybody else,” Cook said. “I said, ‘you have to impress somebody.’ ”
And he did. The suburban Birmingham product broke through in Saturday’s scrimmage. He led the team in receptions (7) yards (83) and scored on catches of 7 and 22 yards.
At 5-feet-11, 175 pounds, Jones is a little bigger than graduated receiver Marquis Maze. But his speed and background make him a logical replacement in an offense that must replace its top three wide receivers.
Only he didn’t come to Tuscaloosa as a primary receiver. Jones played both sides of the ball at Minor where he was a highly rated defensive back. Scout.com said he was the 29th-best cornerback in the country.
Alabama’s secondary was stocked when he arrived last fall, so he moved to running back before settling at receiver.
Wherever he goes, Jones brings the party.
And BCS media day this January was his field day. Handed a microphone by a local television station, Jones went to town on teammates. The roast claimed victims including Brent Calloway’s bleach-blonde hair. Even receivers coach Mike Groh earned an interview as a herd of cameras and recorders followed the sudden media sensation across the Superdome turf.
That, teammates say, is just a slice of Jones’ personality. And it never disappears — even on the all-business Alabama practice field.
Three-year starting offensive lineman Chance Warmack laughed telling Jones stories.
“He’s funny, man — really upbeat guy,” Warmack said. “He gets me going in practice when I’m not feeling good. So I appreciate his energy and always willing to practice with an upbeat energy and I feed off that.”
Both Warmack and safety Robert Lester mentioned a certain talent Jones’ perfected. He does a spot-on simulation of tight ends/special teams coach Bobby Williams.
Lester said it tops the Saban impression that made former receiver Rob Ezell an ESPN cult hero. Even Williams appreciates the
Cook said he came to Alabama well-versed in the art of imitation.
“He good at mimicking me,” Cook said. “He was extremely good. He knew what I was fixing to say. As a matter of fact, he probably said it better than I could say it.”
Saban smiled when he said he didn’t spend much non-football time with Jones, but recognizes his intangible contributions.
“I think he’s a popular guy on the team,” Saban said. “I think he has a very positive, sort of high energy, happy approach to life and living, and it’s kind of uplifting when you’re around him.”
Jones wasn’t available for comment since he still fell under the no-interview policy for first-year players.
On the field, Jones caught two of his three 2011 passes against North Texas in Week 3. His 30-yard reception put the Tide at the Mean Green 5 in the blowout win. That was his greatest statistical moment, but his most significant action came just days after his impromptu comedy routine.
Jones got the call when a hamstring injury took Maze out for the final three quarters of the BCS title game. He returned kickoff 32 yards after fielding it a few yards deep in the end zone. Jones also fielded four punts cleanly with three fair catches and one 15-yard return.
Still, his greatest contribution might not show up in the stats.
That ability to lighten the mood can’t be ignored, Warmack said.
“In the game of football, you need all the elements to do well,” Warmack said.
“Sometimes you have to have a little bit of play in it. Without having fun playing the game, if you lose out on having fun, what are you playing for?”