Alabama center Barrett Jones is one of those once-in-a-generation kind of student athletes.
He is a senior this season and his last game in an Alabama uniform will come on January 7 when the Tide faces Notre Dame for the BCS title. With a win, it will be the third national championship ring for Jones and his class.
After the season, Alabama will be losing some key components from this team. Chance Warmack, Jesse Williams, Damion Square, Robert Lester and Nico Johnson will be gone. Juniors like Eddie Lacy, Dee Milliner and D.J. Fluker may be joining the departed.
As the Tide has proven this season, there is no such thing as an irreplaceable player. After all, Alabama finds itself back in the title game just a year after saying goodbye to names like Richardson, Hightower, Kirkpatrick, Barron, and Upshaw.
That being said, trying to replace a Barrett Jones is quite a difficult task and may not happen for many years.
Jones is more than just a football player. He is a spiritual and emotional leader. He is an example setter. He is the rock from which this team has built itself around.
Jones has played every position on the offensive line in his tenure at Alabama. He has been named as an All-American three times—at three different positions—and is an Outland Trophy winner.
Jones was also named as a captain of the 2012 Crimson Tide.
As reported by AL.com, Jones said of this nomination: "That's probably the biggest award I've ever gotten, is being named a team captain, because it's elected by your teammates. It means a lot to be named kind of a leader of your team by your teammates. It's something that I am very, very proud of."
Jones is also an academic All-American. He graduated summa cum laude in August of 2011 with a 4.0 grade-point average and recently won the Campbell Award, an academic counterpart to the Heisman Trophy.
Jones' list of accomplishments is simply too long to list here.
It is what Jones has meant to the university as a whole that will make him so difficult to replace. There has likely not a better candidate to represent the University of Alabama in the last 30 years.
His tornado relief efforts helped Tuscaloosa work toward recovery from the devastating twisters that rocked the city in April of 2011. He has been on mission trips to Haiti and Nicaragua.
Most important to Jones is his Christianity. He places this atop his list of priorities over family, football and personal accomplishments. In another AL.com report, Jones was quoted as saying "I tell people, I don't want to be a football player who is a Christian. I want to be a Christian who happens to play football."
That pretty much sums up the kind of man that Jones is. He is unselfish in his efforts and sees the greater good in everything that he does.
As for the Tide football team, Alabama will be losing more than just an All-American center.
Mark Ingram and Trent Richardson could not have had the success that they did at Alabama without Jones paving the way.
Eddie Lacy and T.J. Yeldon of this year's squad could not have filled their predecessors' shoes without the leadership and consistent dependability of Barrett Jones to guide them.
Quarterback A.J. McCarron could not have filled the role left to him by Greg McElroy without the confidence instilled in him by knowing that Jones was there to protect him.
Head coach Nick Saban and then-offensive coordinator Jim McElwain could not have placed the 2012 BCS title game in McCarron's hands, and turned to the pass over the run against LSU, were it not for their trust in Jones to lead the offensive line.
The Alabama offense is more confident with Jones out there with them in the trenches. And without him in 2013, the void left will shake that confidence.
To expand on the difference Jones has made to the Tide in pretty much every offensive situation would become redundant.
He is, to put it frankly, the heart and soul of the Alabama offense.
In April, Jones will likely be drafted into the NFL and is sure to have a stellar career on Sundays. But for Jones, his Christianity, his good works, his dedication to being the best man that he can be in every sense of the word will be what make him successful.
The accomplishments that Jones finds on the football field are small potatoes compared to what he strives to be away from the gridiron.
To predict that Jones will find every bit of success he seeks in life would be unnecessary, as nothing he has done thus far in his young life has turned out any differently.
Alabama will dearly miss Barrett Jones.
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