Julio Jones might have been in Tuscaloosa when tornadoes touched down last month. "At the last minute," he said, "I decided I wanted to go to New York." But, yeah, he might have been there.
"I don't know what would have happened," he said.
Instead, he was at the NFL draft, where the Atlanta Falcons traded draft choices to take the former Alabama receiver with the No. 6 overall pick.
On that stage, he hugged the commissioner. Jubilation. But back home?
Wednesday night, Jones said he'd be back in Tuscaloosa and Birmingham on Thursday, hoping to boost the spirits of those who'd cheered for him when he was scoring touchdowns for the Tide. He'd taken a quick drive around, Wednesday night, after getting in. "The place is wiped out," he said. Weeks later, there was still lots of police presence, Army vehicles, military personnel.
The plan was to hook up with the Red Cross on Thursday. To make the rounds. He wasn't sure yet who would be with him. Other former Alabama players, to be sure. He'd invited his fellow first-round receiver A.J. Green (No. 4, to the Bengals) to come along.
He just knew he had to be there. He had to do something.
Jones grew up on Alabama's Gulf Coast, and his hometown had been through Hurricane Katrina. Some of the people he'll be meeting will have lost everything. "A lot of people aren't used to it," he said.
With the lockout, Jones is not yet an official employee of the Falcons. But he does have a deal with Under Armour. He asked the sports accessories and apparel company if this could be their first project together. He and his crew planned to hand out boxes of socks, shoes, workout clothes, whatever UA makes.
He knows it isn't much to people who have just lost everything. But it's something.
"I'm going to just try to smile, make everybody happy," Jones said. It's all he can do. But it's something.
He saw it with Katrina. Walking with the Red Cross, he knew he would see it again.
"You gotta start life over," he said.