Former Warsaw Tiger Julius Jones holds the ball during the 2022 season. Jones was named to the Northern?Lakes All-Conference team and is committed to the University of Saint Francis. Photo by Gary Nieter
Former Warsaw Tiger Julius Jones holds the ball during the 2022 season. Jones was named to the Northern?Lakes All-Conference team and is committed to the University of Saint Francis. Photo by Gary Nieter
Julius Jones will represent the Warsaw Tigers on the North squad in Friday’s Indiana Football Coaches Association (IFCA) North-South football game at Ben Davis High School in Indianapolis. If you’re looking for him on the field, however, you’ll have to search for a different number, and a different offensive position on the field to boot.

The Tigers’ All-Northern Lakes Conference running back who also led the team in receiving will line up at wide receiver wearing jersey number 85 instead of the number 3 Tiger football fans are accustomed to seeing slash and dash all over the gridiron.

Jones is having no trouble with the change in position because the University of Saint Francis (USF) Cougars in Fort Wayne have already begun preparing him for the shift.

“(Saint Francis) is trying to switch me to a hybrid,” Jones noted. “So, I'd be, like, a running back/wide receiver.”

The North squad, whose head coach is a familiar name with Tiger football fans, will operate a spread offense with a run-pass option, so this Friday’s game will be a good litmus test for Jones’s transitional progress.

“I wasn't very sure about that I know since other coaches don’t really run the triple option kind of offensive Warsaw runs,” Jones said. “So, I wasn't really sure where they were really gonna’ put me. I talked to the coach (Warsaw alum, and Merrillville head coach Brad Seiss) and he thought it would be best to put me there.

“I haven't really run a spread (offense) since middle school. I've been used to triple option. I get a chance to actually see the quarterback throw the ball and do all these reads.”

Seiss and Jones are no strangers between each other. Jones played essential minutes in the defensive and offensive backfield during the 2019 IHSAA Class 6A regional championship game against Siess’s Pirates. The familiarity, however, began long before the post-season clash.

“I used to spend a lot of time at (Tiger freshman football coach, Randy) Nolin’s house when I was little and, he had a friend that also lived like right down the street. It was Brad’s sister Julie. I’ve been around them for the longest time.”

The North and South squads each completed two practices per day Monday, and yesterday, and will have three more practices including an early practice Friday before the All-Star classic’s 7:00 kick-off.

While each squad will cram as much as they can in practice and drills before the game, there will also be time for some bonding among players from numerous schools.

The most popular display of camaraderie is the exchange of school helmet decals among the athletes to apply on each player’s helmet.

“There are a few other guys from the area in different schools,” Jones said. “One of the things I know that they do sometimes is they bring down helmet stickers to exchange.

“Last year I saw (2021 All-Star running back) Juan (Jaramillo) when he came back in his helmet was decorated creatively with whole bunch of stuff… I forgot about it until (Warsaw head) Coach (Bart) Curtis brought it up to me, and he (said), ‘we're gonna have a bunch of decals for you.’ So, I'm gonna try to get as many decals as possible and test my creativity on my helmet.”

Jones also expressed excitement about the transition from rival opponents who are also on the squad to teammates working toward a win over the South All-Stars.

“It's kind of weird playing against the people that I wanted to beat,” he remarked. “They’re on the same team as I am now.”

“I'm not really used to running routes that much, but this summer I've been working on running routes. I feel like (playing wide receiver) will be good for me since I'm good in open space when I have the ball there. I feel like I can make something happen.”

In the meantime, Jones has spent his summer before Cougar training camp begins with prescribed workouts and continued intense weightlifting.

“I've been out there a few times, and (USF is) asking us to work hard in the weight room,” Jones said. “I’m doing some other aggressive training to stay in condition because when they get (us freshmen) up there they don't want (us) out of shape. That first workout (at USF) really tests to see who's in shape, and who's been putting in the work in the offseason.”

Jones already has shone brightly in the challenge of a quick position change for the good of the team. He was on the wings lined up as an “A” back in the Tigers’ triple-option offense throughout most of the season before he and Jayce Sawyer teamed up to spell “B” back German Flores-Ortega, who was injured for the latter part of the season.

A Bart Curtis football program seems to thrive from game readiness fortified by the reps in practice players at all levels get in case a starter’s injury results in a “next man up” situation.

The switch to B back was more of a “next-man-over” test for Jones.

“I'd have to, like, fill in at B back when German or Jayce had a meeting or had something else to do in practice. I played a little bit before I went to it in game action when German got hurt. It was kind of new to me, but I knew I had to do it for us to keep winning.”

His first next-man-up test was two seasons earlier.

The Elkhart Memorial game (September 2019) was Jones’s first next-man-up test. 2019 Sectional championship squad senior Blake Marsh (another IFCA North All-Star) was forced out of the game due to injury putting Jones in place of Marsh

“That's my first actual game of getting the ball at varsity level,” Jones recalled when discussing the 2019 Warsaw-Memorial thriller, a 38-35 win for the orange and black.

Julius Jones made successful transitions among each of his high school football roles throughout his three-year Warsaw Tiger varsity career. Jones seems ready, once again, for a new role in this Friday’s IFCA North-South All-Star game. Afterward, he moves on to the University of Saint Francis football program this fall.