Former Irish RB Julius Jones hardly running on empty

Eric Hansen
South Bend Tribune

SOUTH BEND — He insists he has a sizable investment in Dunkin Donuts, a big part of life after football for Julius Jones.

Perhaps the 33-year-old former Notre Dame running back spends more time around the coffee urns than the actual donuts, which might explain how the No. 5 career rusher in school history and single-game record-holder looks like he could seamlessly blend in with the current Irish crop — Tarean Folston, Greg Bryant and C.J. Prosise.

“I like them,” Jones said of the ND running backs earlier this week during his first visit to campus since graduating with a degree in sociology more than 11 years ago. “They’ve got the ability to get the job done if they stay healthy and stay focused.

“They’re very talented, and I’m rooting for them.”

He’ll actually do that in person this fall, he says, after being blown away during his return to ND that included spending time with the participants in the Notre Dame Football Fantasy Camp.

“It’s just a special place,” the married father of two sons and Fort Lauderdale, Fla., resident said. “Football is football. But everything around it is different.”

Jones’ 262 yards on 24 carries he recorded coming off the bench against Pitt on Oct. 11, 2003 is still standing as the one-game ND rushing standard.

Starter Ryan Grant actually amassed more carries (27) in that game as the nation’s eighth-worst rushing team upended the 15th-ranked Panthers on the road with a dominating, one-dimensional running performance.

Freshman quarterback Brady Quinn ended up completing just five passes (out of 17) in that game for a career-low 33 yards, and freshman tackle Ryan Harris was plugged into the right side of the offensive line for his first collegiate start.

‘I remember everything about it,” Jones said.

He’d go on to have what still stands as the school’s sixth-best (221) and eighth-best (218) single-game performances later that fall in a redeeming senior season after a casual attitude toward academics resulted in him being booted from school in 2002.

Jones played his first three seasons under head coach Bob Davie and his comeback campaign under Tyrone Willingham. In his year away, he lived in Phoenix with and “coached by” older brother Thomas, a former star at Virginia who was with the Arizona Cardinals at the time, and took classes at nearby Arizona State.

Julius would later join Thomas in the NFL, getting plucked by the Dallas Cowboys in the second round of the 2004 draft. Two years later, they became the first set of brothers to each rush for 1,000 yards or more in the same season.

Julius would also play for the Seattle Seahawks and New Orleans Saints in a seven-year career that featured 5,068 rushing yards, 22 TDs, 13 fumbles and six tackles. Thomas played in the league for 12 years, including three with the Chicago Bears (2004-06), then retiring in 2011 — a year after Julius.

“He’s out in California now, and into acting,” Julius said of Thomas, who is in the cast of the show Being Mary Jane, on BET. “I think he just landed a movie role.”

Julius Jones’ life probably felt like a movie at times. His mom, Betty worked in the coals mines for roughly two decades in their hometown of Big Stone Gap. Va. His dad, Thomas Sr., was a corrections officer at a maximum security prison when Jones enrolled at ND.

The drama was all Julius Jones’ once he arrived in South Bend, and at least the 2002 chapter was self-inflicted. But so was the desire to come back and finish what he started.

Now the ups and downs have evened out, and the biggest challenge in retirement is keeping 7-year-old Julius Jr., and 5-year-old Andre away from football as long as he can.

They play golf, baseball and soccer and Julius coaches them in between his Dunkin commitments and some public speaking engagements.

“Maybe in a couple of years I’ll let them play flag football,” Jones said. “I was 6 when I started — and full tackle — which is way too young. I know once they start, that’ll be all they want to do.”

They already watch Notre Dame football games on TV with their dad. Religiously. And No. 1 quarterback Malik Zaire is someone who catches their attention.

“I spoke to him a couple of times,” Jones said. “Great guy. Very talented as well. Athletic. I’m excited to see what they have this year.”

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Running back Julius Jones (center) was back on the Notre Dame campus this week for the first time since he graduated 11 years ago. (SBT File Photo)