Every day she’d walk in, caked in chicken grease and exhaustion, and head right back into the kitchen.

Her name is Queen Marvin, and her two sons watched this ritual every day: Nine hours working the fryer or the drive-thru, a mother so worn out she was almost constantly sick, a woman so determined to provide for her boys she returned to their home not to rest but instead to prepare them a proper supper.

“You’d be so tired,” Marvin recalled recently. “But I don’t care how tired I was, I made sure I’d give them a meal every day.”

She didn’t realize it at the time, but her younger son, Julio Jones, was paying attention. Long before he was the Atlanta Falcons’ best receiver – maybe the NFL’s best – he’d sit back and absorb, compiling mental files, stashing a belief he’d deploy later: A hard day’s work is an expectation.

It is one reason why, according to several individuals involved in Jones’ rise, the 27-year-old is seen as the emotional nerve center of a team headed to the Super Bowl; why Jones is seen as a quiet hero. After some of the most dazzling catches – such as a sideline touchdown grab in the NFC championship game – Jones avoids choreography and over-the-top celebration and instead calmly hands the ball to an official. It’s the way he’s always done it.

“Never was he overdramatic or beating on his chest or pointing at the cameras,” said Todd Watson, who coached Jones’ high school team in Foley, Alabama. “It was always: ‘OK, I scored; let’s go do it again.’ ”

Lance Thompson, who recruited Jones to play for Coach Nick Saban at Alabama, puts it a bit more colorfully.

“He ain’t one of them guys you’re going to see creating drama, trying to bring attention to themselves,” Thompson said. “He’s rare in today’s athlete, today’s players. He’s a saber-toothed tiger and they’re Persian cats. This guy will gobble them all up.”

Years ago in Foley, a small town not far from the Gulf Coast, Jones didn’t say much. He was so quiet that some visitors thought, as Marvin put it, that her son was “different.” He kept mostly to himself, was content to go the movies with his mother and brother, was thankful to eat her lemon pepper chicken and macaroni after Marvin’s shift ended at the fried chicken chain down the road.

He’d come into the restaurant after school sometimes to say hello to his mother, watching her run from here to there, almost never able to sit. She turned the visits into lessons; aim higher than this, she’d tell him, and settle for only the best. Jones promised his mother that someday she wouldn’t have to do this; in time, he told her, he’d be able to buy her a house, a car – whatever she wanted.

When college recruiters came to Foley High, a frenzy over an athlete Rivals ranked as the nation’s top receiver and the No. 4 overall prospect, Jones would barely speak. After the visits, Watson said coaches would call him and ask if Jones had any interest in their programs at all. If he did, he sure wasn’t showing it.

“He might not have said much back,” Watson said, “but he’s taking in every word you say.”

He signed with the home-state Crimson Tide, and almost immediately Jones made an impression on coaches with his work ethic. He played through injuries, was early to team meetings, combined aptitude with talent to eventually finish in the top five all time in every meaningful receiving category at Alabama.

He’d stay late after practice to catch extra passes, rarely had to be reminded to block until the whistle, almost always got up after being tackled and sprinted – because his hero, Jerry Rice, used to do this – to the end zone. If Jones dropped a pass or was off on his timing, nobody had to remind him to run the route 15 or so times after practice.

In games, if the offense or Alabama’s quarterback somehow missed Jones for a while, he wouldn’t blow up at coaches or stalk the sideline. His receivers coach, Curt Cignetti, said Jones would sit quietly on the bench – waiting to catch Cignetti’s eye.

“Just a very, very subtle, like, ‘I’m ready,’ ” said Cignetti, who’s now the head coach at Elon University.

Cignetti and several of Jones’ other former coaches said the young receiver was the ideal pupil. He worked hard, kept quiet, never seemed satisfied. Which is perhaps why the Falcons went all-in on Jones before the 2011 NFL draft, trading five picks to Cleveland to move up 21 spots and select the receiver at No. 6 overall.

It was called bold, an overreaction, a move that can get NFL executives fired. Then again, it worked; Jones has averaged at least 100 receiving yards per game in each of the past four seasons, and he is a major reason quarterback Matt Ryan will likely be crowned most valuable player this week.

More than that, his drive, study habits and refusal to be sidelined by nagging foot and toe injuries helped propel the Falcons past Green Bay and into their first Super Bowl in 18 years with nine catches for 180 yards and two touchdowns. All eyes will be on Houston this weekend, and on Friday a mother will join the party.

“I ain’t never been to a Super Bowl before,” Jones’ mother said. “My friends have been there, and they told me everything is big. I said I want to see for myself.”

She’ll leave the three-bedroom house Jones bought for her in 2011, kitchen equipped with granite counters and custom cabinets, and drive her Cadillac – another gift from her younger son – to the Pensacola, Florida, airport. She’ll eventually arrive in Houston, where this time it’ll be Jones who takes care of dinner.


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