Kent State kickoff returner Raekwon Jones was cruising down the sideline, gathering some steam, when he ran into what must have felt like a boulder.
A Penn State kicker shaped like a boulder.
Jones staggered three yards backward, and fell on his butt. The crowd went “ooohh.’’
It was Sept. 3, 2016. The day the legend of Joey Julius was born.
Three weeks later Julius delivered a high, hard hit on Michigan returner Jourdan Lewis and Lewis flew, sprawling, like a pratfalling pro wrestler.
Lewis admitted he’d never hit like that by a kicker before.
“I’ve never been hit by a kicker before,’’ he said.
During the following two Penn State games, Julius was flagrantly targeted for unnecessary hits by Minnesota’s Jalen Waters and Maryland’s Isaiah Davis, both of whom were ejected.
“Big Toe,’’ was Julius’ nickname. He was becoming a cult hero, both for his outsized impact, for a kickoff specialist, and for being outsized, at 5-10 and, at one point, close to 300 pounds.
“I think what people saw was a normal kind of guy,’’ Julius said last week, “who was doing things most kickers shied away from.’’
There was much more to the story. Julius had been Penn State’s full-time placekicker as a true freshman in 2015, but had not been with the program for spring ball in 2016, nor for summer workouts that year.
In October of 2016, after an emotional phone conversation with his mother, Julius wrote on his Facebook page that, “After a long consideration of not only myself, my family and my team, I have decided to go public about my absence from the team during spring ball of 2016 and thru out this summer. I was admitted into the McCallum place on May 9th for eating disorders.”
McCallum is a nationally-known clinic for eating disorders in St. Louis. He’d been there before, and would be again.
The eating disorder was 11 years old. At Penn State, there were times he’d eat a salad with his teammates, hide food in his backpack, go back to his room, alone, order takeout and, “eat until I was so sick I couldn’t move. I’d just lay there.’’
Julius has admitted to contemplating suicide several times, once after missing two extra points in a Penn State-Illinois game in 2015.
He once told then-Penn State trainer Tim Bream, “If you send me home, I’ll kill myself.’’
Ultimately, though, Penn State’s medical staff and Julius agreed that, “It would be smarter for me to stop playing football.’’ He left the program, but remained on scholarship.
During the fall of 2017 he lived at home, in Hummelstown, and commuted to Penn State-Harrisburg. Without the structure of football, though, he lost interest in school, was academically suspended in the fall of 2018, and lost his scholarship.
"There is light at the end of the tunnel,’’ he said. “It is just a very long tunnel."
Fast forward to the present. Julius, 24, is crawling out the other side. He still lives with his parents in Hummelstown. He’s been a waiter, worked at Manada Golf Club in Grantville, and was just hired as a salesman at Faulkner Chevrolet of Lancaster.
He vows to eventually get a degree from Penn State.
“I loved Penn State,’’ he said. “I loved everything about it. When I left, the support I got, … and I mean from thousands of people. The fan support there is like nowhere else.’’
For now, though, he said that “Honestly, I just really want to be a great salesman.’’
He remains a great natural athlete.
“Probably one of the best athletes I’ve ever witnessed in person,’’ Dave Bitting, athletic director at Julius’ high school, Lower Dauphin, said in 2017.
Julius turned down a scholarship offer to play division one soccer at Southern Illinois-Edwardsville to kick at Penn State. According to Bitting, “He would have been a star on the football team, the basketball team or the baseball team.’’
Julius still plays, well, almost everything but football. Organized soccer and softball and twilight baseball, golf in the summer and pickup basketball in the winter.
“Sports are my favorite thing,’’ he said. “I do everything.’’
The demons are in remission. Keeping them there is a battle that likely will never end.
“I’m doing OK,’’ he said. “I really am. Two or three years into recovery, no relapses.
“I struggle, like everybody does, with a lot of things. But I don’t struggle about food as much as I did.’’