Deion Jones’ aunt, Sheereen Gaines, grabs the former LSU linebacker as he’s drafted. Seated on the couch, Jones’ father, Cal, is on the right. His mother, Tahonas, is on the left.
A year ago, Deion Jones had started one college football game, never finished a single game with more than five tackles and never sacked a quarterback.
On Friday night, surrounded by friends and family at his aunt’s home in Harvey, the kid they call “Debo” became an instant millionaire – and a dirty bird, too.
The Atlanta Falcons selected the former LSU linebacker with the 21st pick – 52nd overall – in the second round of the NFL draft, eliciting a mad celebration from the more than 50 gathered at Shelly Hall’s home in this New Orleans suburb.
“I am dirty,” Jones’ father, Cal, said after the selection while sitting next to his son. “I’m a dirty bird!”
Deion Jones, his father Cal to his left, gets the call from the Atlanta Falcons notifying him that they plan to draft him with the next pick.
That didn’t last long. Minutes later, one of Deion’s relatives thought of a new name for this family.
“We’re Debo Birds!”
Jones, a 6-foot-1, 222-pounder, became the first LSU player selected in the 2016 draft – an impressive feat for a guy who served as a backup until his senior year last season. He broke onto the scene in 2015, leading LSU with 100 tackles as the Tigers’ weak-side linebacker.
His stock climbed over the last four months, too – all leading up to this rocking family affair. Jones will fly to Atlanta on the Falcons’ private jet Friday for a visit.
“I’m gonna get us a parakeet, rub it in some dirt and we’re gonna have us a dirty bird,” one of Jones’ relatives said playfully.
The ex-Jesuit standout excelled during the week at the Senior Bowl in January, performed well at the NFL combine in February and, in March, ran a 4.38-second 40-yard dash time – nearly unheard of for a linebacker – at LSU’s pro day.
The speedster entered his senior year known more for his prowess on special teams. He was dubbed “The War Daddy” by some LSU players for his vicious hits on the kickoff team.
Turns out, he can tackle on defense, too. Kwon Alexander’s early departure to the NFL draft opened the door last year for Jones’ starting role.
“He wasn’t even on the radar going into (the 2015 season),” ESPN draft guru Mel Kiper said on the telecast after the selection.
Jones spent Friday watching from a gray sectional couch, flanked by agent Jason Rosenhaus and his mother, Tahonas, and father, Cal – all of them watching a 50-plus inch Panasonic blaring ESPN’s coverage to more than 50 people shoved in the room. An ESPN camera, positioned on a tripod in the middle of the living area, focused on Jones. His reaction to the selection aired on the network in tape delay.
More than 50 family members and friends roared, collapsing upon the ex-Tiger.
Deion Jones during an ESPN interview after he was drafted, his father Cal and mother Tahonas flanking him.
“Good things happen to good people and this is proof,” an emotional Rosenhaus said off to the side.
“I’m excited, emotional … all wrapped in one,” Tahonas said.
According to spotrac.com, the projected signing bonus for that selection is $1.6 million – quite the boost for this family. Deion’s father, Cal, drove a taxi cab in New Orleans for more than a decade before getting a job with his neighbor’s electrical and AC company recently. His mother is a Subway restaurant manager.
About 10 minutes before the pick was announced on the ESPN telecast, Jones got the call from the Falcons notifying him of the decision. A subdued celebration followed, an opening act to the outburst minutes later.
The Falcons’ call to Jones wasn’t his first of the night, though. An hour into the second round, Jones fielded a call from LSU trainer Jack Marucci. The Falcons had called Marucci just minutes before to inquire about Jones’ shoulder, one that’s previously been injured.
“That was a good sign,” Rosenhaus said.
The night began relaxed but anxious in the home off Destrehan Avenue – especially after five linebackers went in the first 11 picks of the second round. None of them were Jones.
Family members bowed their heads for a prayer just before the telecast began. Soon after, Rosenhaus, brother to Drew Rosenhaus, warned Jones and family of the potential for a long, nerve-filled night ahead.
The Jones family in a pre-draft prayer.
“It’s going to be a ride. Buckle in,” he said just before ESPN’s coverage began. “You’re most likely to go in the middle of the second to the middle of the third.”
They didn’t need to wait too long. The Falcons traded with the Rams, moving from 49th overall to 51st.
Not long afterward, at 7:40 p.m., some 90 minutes into the second round, Jones and Rosenhaus received nearly simultaneous phone calls. He was off to the Falcons.
“I saw my phone ringing, and it was from a Georgia number,” Jones said. “I was nervous to pick it up because I didn’t know who it was.”
“Answer it!” his mother, by his side, yelled at him as the phone buzzed on his leg.
Rosenhaus leaped from his seat during his call, pumping his fist toward the white ceiling like a preacher delivering a hard-hitting sermon.
“Tonight begins a dream,” Rosenhaus said. “It’s a beautiful thing.”
Jones’ mother, Tahonas, milled around outside an hour after the celebration. She smiled when a reporter walked up.
“Debo Birds!” she said. “The shirts are in the making now.”
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