Alabama ties keep Julio Jones, Calvin Ridley and Amari Cooper connected

Falcons receivers Julio Jones and Calvin Ridley have combined for 103 catches and 1,540 yards through nine games this season. Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- Calvin Ridley had already committed to the University of Alabama, but one trip there, in particular, made even more of an impression on him.

Back before the Atlanta Falcons rookie wide receiver ever caught a pass on the football field at Alabama, he remembered making a visit and, specifically, the guy who guided him during the tour.

Amari Cooper.

"It was cool, just a couple guys hanging out," Ridley said with a smile. "I was already wanting to go there. I knew that he was leaving because it was his third year. And after that, we stayed in contact a little bit. Just texting, like homeboys. It wasn't like a tight, tight bond, but he's my guy."

Ridley felt the same type of immediate connection the first time he hung out with another now ex-Crimson Tide receiver: Julio Jones. His current Falcons teammate often dropped by Tuscaloosa, Alabama, just to check in on the program and offer advice to players. After Ridley declared for the 2018 NFL draft, he began working out with Jones under the watchful eye of Alabama strength coach Scott Cochran.

"Just his work ethic," Jones said of what he admired most about Ridley. "I already knew he had it because he played at Alabama. ... He wanted to keep working, every little thing. And just being in the position that he was in, making those next steps to come to the league, he was like, 'What can I do to get better? What can I do?' And he took all those little coaching points from there and he just kept working on them."

Jones never worked out with Cooper, but he admired him from afar. Cooper entered Alabama two seasons after Jones exited.

"Amari's always been good," Jones said. "He's quiet. He was like me when I was in school. It wasn't like I had to coach him up or anything like that. ... Everything about him, he's another great one."

All three of the Alabama products, each of whom played three years for the Crimson Tide and each surpassed at least 2,600 receiving yards in college, will share the field Sunday at 1 p.m. ET when the Falcons (4-5) play host to the Dallas Cowboys (4-5).

"Yeah, I mean, I’m cool with both of those guys," Cooper said of Jones and Ridley. "Obviously we all went to the same school. None of us played together, so none of us played on the same field together. That will be really cool to go out there and be on the same field with those guys."

Cooper, the 2015 fourth overall pick of the Oakland Raiders, was traded to the Cowboys last month in exchange for a 2019 first-round pick. He has made an immediate impact in Dallas with 11 catches for 133 yards, a touchdown and 10 first downs on 18 targets.

Ridley, the 26th overall pick in the 2018 draft, leads the Falcons with seven touchdown receptions. He's caught 36 passes for 500 yards.

And Julio is, well, Julio. Jones, the sixth overall pick in the 2011 draft, currently leads the NFL with 1,040 receiving yards (67 catches.). Not to mention Jones just became the fastest player in NFL history to 10,000 receiving yards, achieving the feat in 104 games. He has 10,094 yards entering Sunday's game.

The accomplishments of Jones, Cooper, and Ridley make Alabama coach Nick Saban feel like a proud papa.

"All three of those guys have got some of the same things in common," Saban said. "First of all, in maybe a little different way, they're all extremely talented guys. But these guys all had great intangibles, man. They were the hardest workers on the team. They came to work every day. They challenged themselves every day. They really worked to get better. They had that sort of mentality of, 'I'm going to be the best player that I can be.' And they tried to improve every day."

Jones tries to instill that same mentality into the current Alabama players whenever he returns to campus.

"Alabama is family. I always go back," Jones said. "That's home. It's not like I'm going to abandon them, 'OK, I'm out of there. I leave college, I'm done with it. That chapter of my life is done. I'm not going to go back.' It's always good to go back and just talk to those young guys.

"I always tell those guys when you get [to the NFL], it's nobody waiting on you hand and feet. When you're in college, people wake you up, 'Go work out. Do this. Do that.' Ain't nobody coming to get you here. You're going to get fined, or you're not going to be that good and you're going to be out the league quick. Just coaching them up and letting them know just that work ethic that they have there, just continue working it."

Ridley appreciates the fact his name is even mentioned alongside Jones and Cooper now when Alabama coaches are on the recruiting trail for the next great receiver.

"It makes you feel good that we went there and made a name for ourselves," Ridley said. "Now, Alabama is looked at as a school that can have good receivers come out of there. Usually it was, what, running backs and linebackers? Just any position to come out of there, there's a lot of good coaches there.

"What would I tell a recruit? Man, if you want to win championships and you think you're good, if you want to win games and you want to go to the NFL and be a good draft pick, go to Alabama."

-- ESPN Cowboys reporter Todd Archer contributed to this story.