Cal Jones keeps it under his mattress, tucked away in his secret stash, stacked up with newspaper clippings and other memorable items regarding his son.
They lay beneath him when he sleeps, as close and as safe as possible.
“I’m going to give it to my grandkids one day,” he says, lifting the mattress and removing a laminated six-page booklet recognizing the 2012 senior class at Jesuit High School.
The members of that senior class stare at you, their headshots spread across three pages. They are mostly white.
On the inside cover is a photo of Cal’s son, Deion. Deion gets a full story, built around a photo of him playing football. The photo is 10 times the size of any of those headshots. Above the photo is a headline.
“Debo Jones named Blue Jay of the Year.”
The Blue Jay of the Year is a big honor at Jesuit. It’s the big honor.
And the school gave it to a black kid from a middle-class family from Algiers.
“This is a place where doctors’ and lawyers’ kids go,” Cal says.
Debo — that’s what most call him — is the son of a former cab driver, Cal, and a longtime Subway restaurant manager, mother Tahonas. He’s the offspring of high school sweethearts, of a mother who graduated high school with little Debo kicking in her belly. He’s the son of two people who were raised, at various points, in the West Bank’s Fischer housing projects.
He’s a son to parents who were only able to send “Doo” — that’s what momma calls him — to the esteemed Catholic school because of a tuition reprieve.
And, now, here they sit in their modest two-bedroom home in the Tall Timbers neighborhood of Algiers, fielding questions about their son’s possible future millionaire life in the NFL and ignoring calls from potential agents.
“It’s surreal,” Tahonas says.
‘He looks the part’
Robert Brock admits it: He cried.
When his best friend, Debo, picked off a batted pass during LSU’s game against Syracuse in September, Brock wept.
“He waited four years for that,” says Brock, an LSU senior who graduated from Jesuit with Debo.
Jones started just one game during his first three seasons at LSU, occupying a reserve role each year. First, he played behind Tahj Jones, and then it was Lamin Barrow and Kwon Alexander last season.
A senior now, this was his season. It was always supposed to be his season.
He put himself in position to potentially make millions with his play as a starter. Jones is projected as a top-100 player in next year’s NFL draft. He’s projected to be a second- or third-round pick, according to CBSSports.com’s most recent draft outlook.
And Jones’ smallish size — he’s 6-foot-1 and 225 pounds — might not be such a big detriment. For that, he can thank his predecessor, Alexander — a fourth-round pick last season now starting for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
“He looks the part. I really like him,” says Matt Miller, a draft analyst for Bleacher Report. “He’s small. That’s probably the biggest question. Something that helps him is Kwon. They kind of remind me of each other: small, can run and cover.”
Jones, like Alexander last year, led LSU in tackles through the regular season. He has 92 — just eight shy of reaching one of his many preseason goals, Brock says.
Jones, statistically, one-upped his predecessor.
He already has two more tackles than Alexander in one fewer game. Alexander rolled up 7.5 sacks for loss in 2014. Jones has 11.5. Alexander had 1.5 sacks. Jones has four, tied for third-most on the team. Alexander didn’t have an interception. Jones has two.
He returned one of those for a touchdown, a rousing pick-six to cap the scoring in a 44-22 win over Eastern Michigan.
That football sits next to the television in the Jones’ living room. Cal Jones picks it up.
“Pick-six,” he says, smiling.
Brock and his girlfriend were seated at the bar at Baton Rouge’s Barcadia watching the game when Jones made that interception and returned it for a score.
“We jumped and we screamed,” he says.
Deion and Bo
They used to call him “Taz,” as in the Tasmanian Devil.
Jones was a wild, energetic and hyper kid, literally bouncing off walls, furniture and bikes. He started walking at 7 months — about 5 months earlier than the average child.
During a recent interview, Jones flashes a few scars on his hands and forearms.
“Bike,” he says.
What about that one? Football, right?
“Bike,” he says with a smile.
“He’d break end tables and glass tables,” says Tahonas, his 39-year-old mother dressed in an LSU T-shirt with a big number on the back: 45.
That’s Debo’s jersey number. Or is it the jersey number for “Doo?” Or “Dee?” Or “Taz?” Or “War Daddy?”
He has a ton of nicknames — like any lovable guy. Cal’s favorite football players are Deion Sanders and Bo Jackson, both College Football Hall of Famers.
Cal named his only son after Sanders, and “Debo” is a combination of his favorite players. Deion Jones says he’s been called “Debo” since before he can remember.
“He was the ‘War Daddy,’ ” LSU right tackle Vadal Alexander says.
For his first three seasons at LSU, Jones led the Tigers’ special teams units. He was a member of all of them, creating buzz as a freshman with his fierce hits on kickoff and punt coverage — a torpedo of a player, tossing around his body without care.
Plaques from his time as LSU’s “War Daddy” hang from the walls of the Jones’ living room. He was special teams player of the year in 2012 and made the Wild Tiger Club each of his seasons with the program.
The living room is a shrine to their son.
Basketball and football trophies — he was a two-sport star at Jesuit — stand tall on a cabinet. Medals hang around the trophies, and photos of some of his best moments dot the cream-colored walls.
“Proud parents,” his mother says. “Proud parents.”
A team picture of Deion’s park ball squad leans against one trophy. He played for Norman Playground, one of the many peewee clubs in New Orleans. On Deion’s team: Gerald Willis, a sought-after recruit recently dismissed from Florida who transferred to Miami, and Landon Collins, the ex-Alabama All-American and second-round draft pick in May.
That’s where it all began, this crazy football career.
“My first position — don’t laugh — was right guard,” a smiling Deion says. “Then I went to end. Then I went to running back. And then running back to linebacker.”
Cal was one of the coaches for Deion’s park ball team from age 6 to 12. Deion was never the biggest on his team. He was one of the youngest, playing up an age group for those seven years.
Deion started school early, too. He graduated from Jesuit at 17 and just recently turned 21. Deion’s youth and size followed him in his career.
It cost him a scholarship offer from Alabama. The Crimson Tide wanted Debo to gain “10 to 15” pounds by a certain deadline, Cal says. “That’s hard for a 17-year-old kid.”
The median income for a family living in the Fischer projects was $20,597 in 2013, according to city-data.com. The population was about 850, and the average rent in Fischer was $274.
When Cal and Tahonas lived in Fischer, there were more than 2,000 residents. That was well before Hurricane Katrina and years before a $22 million revitalization turned the dilapidated projects into the now colorful, renovated homes.
Some 30 years ago, Cal’s mother moved the family out of the low-income housing development that sits just over the Crescent City Connection in Algiers. Tahonas lived in Fischer for several years more and raised Debo there until the age of 4, she says.
That’s around the time Tahonas began working at Subway. She’s a manager now, having spent about 15 years with the company. Cal, just three years ago, drove a cab in New Orleans. He ended that 11-year career when he joined his neighbor’s air conditioning, electrical and plumbing business.
Driving a cab in New Orleans for a decade must produce some stories, he’s asked.
“Tell him who you’ve driven!” Tahonas says.
“Grant Hill. Charles Barkley,” Cal says.
Cal and Tahonas met in junior high. Cal was 14 years old.
“She lied,” Cal says, “and told me she was 13. She was 12.”
The two speak from their cozy, clean kitchen. Cal takes a swig of a cocktail. Finger sandwiches and fried chicken wings are on the kitchen counter, along with drink options.
These aren’t only for the three Joneses currently in the home — Cal, Tahonas and their 8-year-old daughter, Cassidy. These are for everyone in this expansive and tight-knit family. The Jones home is the party house for the family. Cousins, uncles, aunts, sisters, brothers. They all come and go.
On this night, Cal’s sister, Asheley, is over, and so is a cousin.
“Tee-dee” is what Deion calls his Aunt Asheley, a nickname derived from “Auntie” and something a few LSU fans have even adopted.
Asheley began the tradition of arriving to an LSU home game and shouting, “Tee-dee here!” LSU fans in that particular section respond, each shouting in unison, “Tee-dee here!”
The Joneses are about family and about education. Cal’s mother taught at several schools around New Orleans, even bringing troubled children home for dinner.
Deion’s high school path led to Edna Karr, a public school in Algiers, but things changed. The family sent him to Jesuit instead. It came at a price.
The 2015-16 tuition at Jesuit was $8,550, putting it in the top third of New Orleans Catholic schools. The Joneses received a financial reprieve: They paid just half that.
“We were thankful for that,” Tahonas says.
“We sacrificed for our children,” Cal says. “You can take a break on anything but your kids.”
The family bought used books for Debo when they were available, and they made tuition payments on an extended schedule.
They still have trouble. Cal and Tahonas couldn’t find cheap enough flights to LSU’s game against Iowa at the Outback Bowl in 2013, so they watched it on TV.
Two years later, their son stands to make millions as a projected second- to third-round pick in the NFL draft. Second-round signing bonuses range from $1 million to $2 million. The final third-round selection this past year, TCU linebacker Paul Dawson, signed for a $580,000 bonus. Every player drafted in the first four rounds signed a contract for at least $2.6 million, spread over four years.
Agents are constantly calling Cal. He keeps a book with information regarding all of them. The Joneses will narrow their choice after Christmas, he says, and they’ll pick an agent soon after Tuesday’s bowl game against Texas Tech in Houston’s NRG Stadium.
Sometimes, Tahonas has to turn off her husband’s phone.
“We’ll get calls at 3 a.m.,” she says.
‘Pimp or die’
Cal Jones’ phone rang. It was Les Miles.
This was the spring of 2013 after Debo’s freshman season at LSU. Debo seemed different at spring practice, and Miles noticed. He wasn’t running, hitting or trying hard enough.
He phoned Cal. The two are close because of Cal’s relationship with running backs coach/recruiting coordinator Frank Wilson. Wilson and Cal grew up together in Algiers, and their families go back a long way, Cal says.
“Pimp or die,” Miles told Debo’s dad.
What does that mean? Cal laughs.
It’s a phrase Cal, Wilson and others use. The phrase’s message: Do it or quit. Accomplish the goal or fail.
Miles must have “picked up” the phrase, Cal says. The conversation with LSU’s coach resulted in a discussion between dad and son. The topic: Pimp or die.
“I asked him, ‘Are you finished? You ready to come home to go to work?’ ” Cal says.
Debo chose to pimp, of course.
It wasn’t the end of his frustration, though. Last season — his third straight as a reserve — Debo got “antsy,” he says, and even thought about transferring.
After all, he felt like he could start at plenty of other schools. But he kept the frustration inside.
“I was always happy when we won,” he says. “I was never one to sit in the locker room and be pouting. But inside I was like, ‘I want to play.’ ”
“Deion is the type of person ... you’ve got to know him, read him,” Brock says. “I would see it on his face. He wouldn’t tell me. I just told him, ‘Just be patient. Your time is coming. Never give up.’
“I always told him, ‘If you get your chance, I know you’re going to succeed,’” Brock continues. “He got his chance, and look what he did.”
He’s here: the starting linebacker and tackle leader for the LSU football team, a highly rated NFL draft prospect, an always-smiling, consistently laughing guy they call Debo.
In many ways, he doesn’t want this part of his career, of his life, to end.
“Can we rewind it back?” he asks playfully.
His next chapter is the pros. And Debo already is thinking of ways to extend that period of his life.
“I really do want to play until I’m 45,” he says. “Maybe have me kick the ball after I can’t run any more.
“Or long snapper,” Debo laughs. “I could do that.”
Follow Ross Dellenger on Twitter, @RossDellenger.