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March 15, 2010

Column: Jones, Dareus have more on minds than football

Apparently Barrett Jones has never heard of Daytona Beach.

Or Destin, Fort Lauderdale, Key West or wherever college students tend to enjoy spring break these days. The starting right guard for the University of Alabama football team has no thoughts about going to the beach, playing golf or taking a cruise during his time off.

Ok, of course he knows of those places where most of his teammates and classmates are spending this week, after all he's a second-team Academic All-American after compiling a 4.0 grade point average in management, selected to the President's List in 2008 and 2009 and also a member of Phi Eta Sigma, Alpha Lambda Delta, Golden Key, Sigma Alpha Lambda and the National Society of Collegiate Scholars. Just right now something else is on his mind.

Assuming his travels went as planned over the weekend, Jones is in the middle Haiti.

"I've been wanting to do something like this for a long time," he said Friday after the Crimson Tide opened spring practice. "I saw it as an opportunity to go there and help and make a difference."

One of the poorest and least developed countries in the world, Haiti was having major problems long before being decimated by a massive earthquake on Jan. 12, which reduced most of its capital to rubble. Not only did scientists proclaim it the region's worst in more than 200 years, but a study by the Inter-American Development Bank estimated that the cost could be between $7.2 billion to $13.2 billion, based on a death toll of 200,000 to 250,000.

The horrifying images were enough to convince Jones, who had been looking for a way to give back, to donate his limited time.

"The only time I really have an opportunity to do that is spring break just because we have such a demanding schedule," the 6-foot-5, 280-pound sophomore said. "When I just saw what was going on in Haiti on TV, I had been praying about an opportunity like this. When I saw it, I felt led. This is where God was leading me to go. This was the opportunity He's given me."

It started with a few phone calls and ended with an association, Eikon Ministries, located in his hometown of Memphis. Jones and two friends raised the necessary money to travel with executive director Roy "Soup" Campbell, who has already made similar relief trips to Haiti.

Following Saturday's flight they were set to take a long drive in the back of a cargo truck through rough terrain during the rainy season and eventually sleep in a tent. While there, they'll work closely with an orphanage.

"With the earthquake there have been a lot of people who have lost their parents, there are a lot of orphans," Jones said. "I'm working in a little village called Pignon, and it's actually now kind of a refugee camp for a lot of the survivors of the earthquake. It was a town with something like 20,000 people and now it's like 100,000 people. So many people have come from Port-au-Prince. Now people are starting to relocate and get their lives back in order. Another thing we're doing is unloading supplies and distributing them to the people who need them."

When told what his teammate was doing for spring break, defensive end Marcell Dareus was stunned.

"Oh man, that's big," he said. "That's real big. I'm half-Haitian. My dad, he's from Port-au-Prince, Haiti. I was born in Florida. I could have talked to Barrett about that and I didn't even know it. That's a nice experience."

If Dareus had been a bit distracted, he can be excused. Although his life on campus hasn't changed much since winning the national championship roughly two months ago -- he still hasn't watched the game despite making two of its biggest plays -- it has in a much broader sense.

"We went through some hard times," Dareus said about his family. "We came together after the game, came home, we had a good time and sort of sat around and ate, we talked and had a good little time.

"My mom, she's not doing too well. We're going to make sure she's going to be ok. I'm going to look out for her as best I can."

Such comments are the kind one may hear from a player thinking about making the early jump to the NFL, and Dareus will be eligible this time next year. With a big season, and no significant setbacks, the Huffman native could potentially be a top draft pick and make the kind of money that could change his life forever.

Yes, even on championship teams real life wins out, whether it's an unforgettable experience or simply continuing to strive for the future.

"We're doing it, I'm excited," Jones said. "It's going to be a great opportunity to put things in perspective. We all think we have bad days, but then you go over there and we're going to see people who have lost everything."


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