Outland Trophy history: Offensive lineman Barrett Jones, Alabama, 2011 recipient

This is the sixth in a series of stories on Outland Trophy winners from 2006 to 2020.  From 1946 to 2005, the first 60 Outland Trophy winners were profiled in the book 60 Years of the Outland Trophy by Gene Duffey. In celebration of the Outland Trophy’s 75th Anniversary we are catching up with the last 15 recipients.

(Barrett Jones was drafted in the fourth round of the 2013 NFL Draft by the then St. Louis Rams. He played 10 games with the Rams over two seasons. In 2017, Jones become a broadcaster for ESPN Radio and remains an analyst on the network’s college football and NFL programs. Jones, an Academic All-American at Alabama, claimed the National Football Foundation’s William V. Campbell Trophy, the “Academic Heisman,” and the Wuerffel Trophy, which is awarded to a college football player for his combined athletic, academic and community service.)

By Gene Duffey, Author

It happened when Barrett Jones was only 12. He spent his youth in Germantown, Tenn., a toney suburb of Memphis. His father, Rex, was a successful car dealer.

Rex Jones decided that Barrett, and his other two sons, needed to see life on the other side of the tracks. He wanted them to understand that there were many people in this world who were not as privileged as they were.

In the summer of 2002 Barrett and his family traveled with a group from Bellevue Baptist Church to Honduras.

“We wanted to show them how big the world is and I wanted them to see kids who get up every day trying to find something to eat,” Rex Jones said of his sons. “I wanted them to be givers. That trip really rocked (Barrett’s) world. He realized that the world didn’t circle around him.”

The trip rocked Barrett so much that he decided he wanted to go on another mission. “It was an experience I’ll never forget,” he said. “It opened my eyes to the rest of the world, how fortunate we are in America. It’s something I have a passion for and want to do the rest of life.”

The perfect opportunity arose in 2010 when Haiti suffered a devastating earthquake that killed approximately 300,000 and made another million homeless.

Barrett called his father and told him that he needed to go to Haiti. He passed up a family ski vacation and followed his heart.

Haiti, one of the poorest countries in the world, needed help. It needed people like Barrett Jones. He worked in a refugee camp, mostly with kids whose parents had died in the earthquake. He even played the violin (started at age 3), entertaining the kids with hymns and spiritual songs.

“The attitude of the Haitian people (was remarkable),” he said. “These kids had lost everything. You wanted to just love them. It was very sad. A lot of them were surprisingly upbeat. I remembered thinking what if I had been in that situation, if I would have been as good.”

Barrett Jones

Jones was nearly thrust into a similar situation the following year. A tornado tore through Tuscaloosa, Ala., on April 27, 2011. Jones, who would win the Outland Trophy eight months later, literally saw the storm blow by him, watching from the balcony of his apartment.

“It’s hard to describe something that massive and that powerful,” Jones told Ivan Maisel of ESPN.com. “I think the weirdest thing was knowing, having seen things like that on TV, that people were probably losing their lives.”

The tornado killed 248 people. Six of them were Alabama students. One was a teammate of Jones, offensive lineman Aaron Douglas.

Naturally, Jones helped organize the Alabama football players who took part in the massive cleanup effort.

When Alabama visited the White House in honor of winning the 2011 national championship, President Obama talked about the devastation caused by the tornado. He singled out Jones for lugging “a chainsaw around Tuscaloosa to remove tornado debris from homes and yards.”  

Barrett returned to Haiti in the summer of 2011. Instead of bragging about Alabama’s 2009 national championship, he taught the gospel. Hardie Buck, a wide receiver for the Crimson Tide, went on the trip with him.

Jones had caught a taste of how the poor lived in the inner city of Memphis. But it couldn’t prepare him for the poverty that he saw on his two trips to Haiti. “It didn’t compare to what you see in Haiti,” he said. “It’s pretty rough over there. Very impoverished. It made me feel fortunate. Makes you appreciate more what you have.”

Jones had found his passion. He realized the missions were something he wanted to do forever.  

During the summer of 2012 he took another trip with the same church group, this time to Nicaragua. Jones would not be just a member of the group. Rex Jones asked him to lead the delegation.

“I want you to organize all of it,” Rex told his son. “He led the whole trip. As a Dad, it was incredible.”

There are always bumps in the road on such ventures. One day the bus didn’t arrive to pick up the group. Barrett asked his father what to do. “You’re on your own,” Rex told him.

Rex Jones played basketball at Alabama in the early 1980s, a 6-3 reserve guard on Tide teams that went 62-31. Alabama made the NCAA Tournament all three years.

Dad didn’t play a part in Barrett’s college decision. Barrett took official visits to Alabama, Florida and North Carolina. He made unofficial trips to Tennessee and Mississippi.

The most important ingredient in a college football program for Jones was the chance to win championships. He had played in three straight state championship games for Evangelical Christian in Tennessee, winning it his sophomore season.

Nick Saban arrived at Alabama for the 2007 season. The Tide went only 7-6 in his first season, but Jones knew that Saban was beginning to build something special in Tuscaloosa.

“Alabama had the best chance to win championships,” Jones said. “What impressed me was Nick Saban. All the best schools are going to have similar facilities. It’s the people.”

Barrett had a chance meeting with Saban years before Alabama started recruiting him. Jimmy Sexton, Saban’s agent, is a neighbor of the Joneses in Germantown.

While Saban was coaching LSU, Sexton asked Rex and Barrett if they wanted to accompany him to an LSU game at Mississippi State. They watched the game from the Tiger sideline.

After the game, Sexton and the Joneses rode with Saban to the airport. For a young boy, meeting Saban was an experience that Barrett never forgot, particularly when it came to recruiting time.

Much like his father, Barrett began his athletic career playing basketball. He was a 6-4 center in high school.

“Basketball was my best sport until 10th grade,” he said. “But I realized there wasn’t much future in basketball for a 6-4 center.”

Jones first played organized football in sixth grade as a linebacker. “I loved tackling,” he said. “I was tall, but skinny.” He played both ways in seventh grade and moved permanently to the offensive line the following year. “Basketball helped with the footwork,” he said.  

He looked up to the smart players in the NFL. Peyton Manning was one of his favorites. He also liked Indianapolis center Jeff Saturday and Dallas tight end Jason Witten. He dreamed of playing tight end someday, but never made it.

Jones realized he might have a future in football when he attended a summer camp at Auburn after his sophomore year of high school. Tommy Tuberville, then the Auburn coach, offered Smith a scholarship. Jones had grown up an Alabama fan and wasn’t ready to commit.

He began his Alabama career playing guard. He made his first appearance in 2008 in the third game of the season, a 41-7 rout of Western Kentucky. “I was very nervous,” he recalled.

Jones played in two more games that year, then suffered a shoulder injury that required surgery and ended his season. Playing in only three games, he qualified for a redshirt year.

“It was good for me to redshirt,” he said. “I was 270 (when I first got to Tuscaloosa), but needed to put on some weight.”

He started every game at right guard as a redshirt freshman in 2009. The Tide went 12-2 and were on their way.

“I look back at my first two games and I was terrible,” remembered Jones. A defensive lineman from Mississippi beat him badly on one play and got a solid hit on Alabama quarterback Greg McIlvoy. “I apologized to (McIlvoy),” said Jones.

Jones knew Alabama was going somewhere after a 24-15 victory over LSU to stretch its record to 9-0. “After that game we knew we had a chance to do something special,” Jones said.

Alabama finished 14-0 and faced Texas for the national championship in the Rose Bowl.

“I was so nervous,” he said of the day of the game. “(Negative) thoughts you shouldn’t have. I thought don’t mess it up in front of 50 million.”

The Crimson Tide beat Texas, 37-21. The Longhorns entered the game with the No. 1 rushing defense in the country, giving up just 62 yards a game. But the Longhorns couldn’t stop the Tide tandem of Mark Ingram and Trent Richardson.

Ingram, who had just won the Heisman Trophy, ran 22 times for 116 yards and scored two touchdowns. Richardson ran 19 times for 115 yards and two more scores. Alabama finished with 246 yards rushing.

Jones appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated the following week in his natural habitat, blocking for Ingram.

“I had two unbelievable backs to block for,” he said. “They’re very modest. It’s fun to play with guys like that, they’re so talented.”

It evolved into a good relationship. The backs made Barrett’s job easier and he made the backs look good. “It was more the former than the latter,” Jones said.

He took great pride in Ingram winning the Heisman, the first in Alabama history.

“It was cool to be able to block for him,” said Jones. “The offensive line had something to do with it. It’s a great achievement for an offensive line. Mark was a great leader. Very unselfish. Everybody respected him.”

After adding a national title to his resume, Jones looked around the Rose Bowl at the end of the game.

“We just won the national championship,” he thought. “I don’t think it’s sunk in yet. It’s surreal. Nothing’s as good as you think (it will be). I’ve been working for this all my life, but it kind of left me empty.”

Surprisingly, Alabama lost three games in 2010, near sacrilegious in the Saban era. The Tide lost on the road to South Carolina and LSU and suffered a stinging 28-27 home loss to Auburn after blowing a 21-0 lead. Jones didn’t play in the Auburn game because of a high ankle sprain.

Alabama gave a hint of what awaited opponents the following season when it buried Michigan State, 49-7, in the Capital One Bowl in Orlando.

Jones said that 2010 team was the most talented one he played on, despite playing on national championship teams in 2009, 2011 and 2012. “We weren’t as hungry as the year before,” he said.  “We took out our frustrations on Michigan State.”

For the 2011 season, Jones switched to left tackle, that famous Blind Side position. “It was a big change,” he said. “It’s totally different pass protection. You’ve got some talented (defensive) athletes on that side.”

Alabama climbed its way up to No. 2 in the country in 2011 going into a showdown with No. 1 LSU Nov. 5 at Tuscaloosa. It was promoted as that year’s Game of the Century.

“It was so hyped,” said Jones. “Like the Super Bowl. It was a war. The most physical game I’ve ever been a part of.”

In a throwback to college football of the 1940s, no one scored a touchdown. LSU won, 6-3, in overtime. It appeared Alabama had blown any chance of winning another national championship. Was there any chance they would meet LSU again?

“We weren’t sure,” said Jones. “A lot had to happen.”

It did. Previously undefeated Stanford and Oklahoma State both lost, moving Alabama up to No. 2 in the BCS rankings. There would be a rematch with LSU in New Orleans for the national championship.

Alabama was well prepared.

“We felt really confident,” said Jones. “That first game helped fuel us.”

Playing the Tigers for the second time in a season stirred different emotions from facing Texas in the 2009 national championship game.

“It was a different feeling,” said Jones. “We’d been there before. It was more about beating LSU.”

Alabama did. The Tide dominated, 21-0.

It appeared that the NFL was the only goal left for him to achieve. He had graduated in 3 ½ years and was already enrolled in graduate school, working on a master’s in accounting. But he decided to stay for his senior year, accepting another change in positions, this one to center.

“The calls are not that bad,” he said of playing center. “The biggest thing was snapping the ball. I did think about (leaving for the NFL early). I love Alabama and love playing there.”

In 2012, Jones added a third national title to his collection, when the Tide beat Notre Dame in the BCS Title Game. Jones completed the cycle of playing three positions on the offensive line at Alabama successfully on three national title teams — a rare, if not unheard of, feat in major-college football. He claimed the 2012 Rimington Trophy (given to the top center) to pair with his 2011 Outland.