ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — For D.J. Jones, football has not been the family business central to most of his life. Barbecue has.
For as long as the new Broncos' defensive tackle can remember, his father, David, has made his living from making barbecue and barbecue sauces. It started small in 1990, when the family lived in Dallas and David opened his first restaurant, a little shop with seating for maybe 15 people, and it continues strong today.
"Selling barbecue is how I raised my family," David said Thursday after his son's introductory press conference. "… It was just a dream come true. I had made the sauces first, and then I aspired to try my hand at a restaurant — which, we tried, and we've been doing it ever since."
Barbecue as business blossomed for David, and for some time, he catered meals for the Dallas Cowboys, which turned into a point of pride and motivation for D.J. as he looked at his own future in the league.
"Emmitt Smith held me, Troy Aikman held me as a toddler — it drove me," D.J. said. "I always wanted to reach my full potential."
He would start his way on that path before long, after the Jones family moved to Greenville, South Carolina, bringing with them the barbecue business, of course. And as with most, if not every, family raising a child with NFL dreams, the Joneses had to make tough decisions to enable him to best find opportunity to continue on that path.
"Wow, where do you start?" David said. "I mean, you do what you have to do. We made a lot of sacrifices early on. The first high school he went to, the program fell apart and we took him to another high school, which was in the suburbs. And so instead of doing it the wrong way, we actually tried to find a house in that area. It wasn't the house we wanted, it was an old trailer, but we sacrificed for him and we dealt with that old trailer for a little while until we could move to something better. We sacrificed a lot."
Follow new Broncos defensive tackle D.J. Jones' first day in Denver, from being fitted for a new suit to his introductory press conference, to portraits with his family and more.
It's easy to understand why family, then, meant a lot to D.J. as he considered his options in free agency. And when he signed his contract on Wednesday with his family all watching and taking videos on their phones, the best surprise may have come when the ink had already dried. Executive Director of Football Operations/Special Advisor to the General Manager Kelly Kleine presented a gift bag to D.J. and his wife, Kayla, who is expecting their first child. For the little girl, Kleine had included a teeny cheerleader outfit.
That gesture may have confirmed that he had made the right decision.
"DJ is a very family oriented person, and that's why he got recruited, that's why he went to Ole Miss," David said. "If you want to get his attention, the hype and stuff don't impress him. Family impresses him. He's not a guy who'll be out in the street much, he's home-bound. So he got a feel for what they're about here and the head coach, and he was sold on it. Family."
As D.J. prepares to raise his first child, what he saw his family do for him will serve as a model for him as a father, he said. Hearing that at the press conference, David couldn't help but tear up.
"It's a blessing," D.J. said. "What they've done for me over the years is beyond my reach. I couldn't repay them. There's nothing I could do to repay them. All I can do is a be a great father to the child that I have on the way because of the way they treated me. I have three older sisters that deserve the world. … Pop's crying. I love you. I love you. I love you, mom. I love you, daddy. I love you, Kayla, and the baby in your belly. It's everything."
Meanwhile, the family business — which donates a portion of its sales to D.J.'s charitable foundation — will change just slightly. Big Dave's All-American BBQ's "The 93 Sauce" will probably need a new label to accommodate for a new orange-and-blue No. 97 uniform.
The focus, though, will remain the same.