Originally created 11/27/03

Longtime friends don't let rivalry hinder their relationship



ATHENS, Ga. -- Georgia had just routed Georgia Tech by 44 points - the kind of score that can test a friendship.

But Sean Jones and Keyaron Fox have been chums most of their lives. No football game was going to keep them apart. Knowing he would be an easy target for all sorts of ridicule, Fox headed over to Jones' apartment anyway.

"I had to rag on him a little bit," conceded Jones, who plays safety for the Bulldogs. "He took it well. If I had gotten beat 51-7, I would have taken it pretty bad. But with his personality, he just goes with the flow."

Sure, there will be plenty of bitterness when No. 5 Georgia plays Georgia Tech on Saturday, but it doesn't necessarily extend to those who will determine bragging rights for the next 365 days.

Fox and Jones will line up on opposite sides, play their hearts out for three-plus hours, then walk off the field as friends - no matter which team has the higher score.

"He's like a brother," Jones said of the Georgia Tech linebacker, "I'll probably see him Saturday night. I'll go back to Atlanta and chill with him, win or lose."

They grew up just a few miles apart in southwest Atlanta. They met in preschool, at such a young age they can hardly remember the genesis of their lifelong friendship.

Sometimes, Jones would spend the night at Fox's house. Other times, Fox would stay at Jones' home. They played against each other in the local recreation league. They teamed up in high school - Jones the quarterback, Fox one of his favorite receivers.

"He had good hands but his speed wasn't up to par," Jones said, breaking into a grin. "He couldn't catch up to all my beautiful passes."

They also played defense, which would be their ticket to college. Fox caused all sorts of havoc at linebacker - 139 tackles, six interceptions and seven sacks in his senior season alone. Jones picked off 13 passed in the secondary. Both played in the Georgia-Florida all-star game; Fox was named MVP after causing a fumble that was returned for a touchdown.

"We're both versatile guys, playing offense and defense," Fox said. "We went against each other pretty good."

They'll probably talk the night before the game, just as they do every week. There will be plenty of good-natured taunts on both ends of the line.

"I'm going to keep in touch with him, give him a little shout-out before the game," Fox said. "This week, I think it might be a little different. We'll probably get into a little mouth-popping. We've been competitors from elementary school on up, so it ain't nothing new."

They took different paths after starring at Westlake High School, each carving their own distinctive niche at the college level.

Fox, a three-year starter for the Yellow Jackets, was named to the All-Atlantic Coast Conference team this week. The senior leads the league with 138 tackles.

Jones, who was redshirted in 2000 and still has another year of eligibility, has missed the last two games with a shoulder injury. Even so, he's second in the Southeastern Conference with five interceptions and ranks second on the team with 91 tackles.

Off the field, their differing personalities seem to mesh well together. Fox is a man about town. Jones is more laid back.

"Oh yeah, we're different," Jones said. "He likes to get out, get into stuff. He's always meeting people, doing things. I would rather stay home and watch TV."

While Jones has been taking it easy in practice this week, he fully intends to play on Saturday. He knows Georgia has won the last two games against Georgia Tech. He knows this is Fox's final chance to even up the score.

"He definitely says he's going to get out there and play," Fox said. "I'm looking forward to battling it out with him again."

No matter which teams wins, they'll walk off the field with their relationship intact.

"This is a lifetime friendship with us," Jones said. "We'll compete on the field. We'll try to beat each other up. But off the field, it will be same as always."