After every football practice, Kam Jones would call his father Tony.
The conversations were simple — "We would just talk ball," Kam said recently — but they were also important in the relationship between the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga inside linebacker and his dad, who knew something about the game.
A four-year letterman as an offensive tackle at Western Carolina, Tony Jones signed with the Cleveland Browns as an undrafted free agent in 1988 and went on to start 174 of 184 games during a 13-year NFL career that included time with the Baltimore Ravens and the Denver Broncos. He was selected to the All-Pro second team in 1994 and made the Pro Bowl four seasons later with Denver, where he was part of back-to-back Super Bowl victories to cap the 1997-98 seasons.
A Georgia native, Tony died on Jan. 22 in the Atlanta area. He was 54.
"He was an amazing guy, a heck of a nice guy," former Broncos safety Steve Atwater, a Pro Football Hall of Famer, told DenverBroncos.com in January. "Great football player — mean, nasty. That's the kind of guy that you want to go to war with if you're going to war. And we were really good friends. We lived in the same neighborhood when we lived in Georgia, down in Sugarloaf down there. We had a pretty good friendship; he and one other friend of mine, we got lunch a little bit before I moved from Atlanta, took me out to lunch.
"I always remember how nice of a guy he was, how great he was with his kids. A good guy, man."
It's why those conversations between father and son were so important. There was a knowledge – not simply about football, but about life — that Kam has held on to.
"We'd talk ball, we would talk experiences," he said this week. "So it's more about missing out on that little camaraderie right there between me and him; being able to see him come to the games and be happy about something I did. He always told me that it doesn't matter how big you are or what's your size, to play with your heart and play hard, and that no matter what you do, you can overcome anything that stands in your way, so I try to do that every day."
Jones, a 6-foot, 225-pound junior, has been on a mission during the early part of the spring semester season for the 11th-ranked Mocs (2-1, 2-0 Southern Conference), who were off last week but return to competition at noon Saturday at No. 13 Furman (3-1, 3-1).
Talent has never been an issue for Jones, who was a three-star prospect coming out of Peachtree Ridge High School in Georgia and chose to play initially for Louisville over offers from Mississippi State and Northwestern. However, the second-year transfer seems to have gone to an additional gear at UTC, where he competes in the same conference where his father once starred for the Catamounts.
He leads the Mocs this school year with 28 tackles — he's been good for five solo stops in each game — and has two for lost yardage. And even on a defense full of leaders, Jones has found a way to take on such a role.
His dad, who was reportedly one not to bite his tongue, would be proud.
"Every day I try to challenge the defense — as well as the defense challenging me – just to be the best version of ourselves and not try to get too caught up in playing time or the mistakes we make," Kam said. "The goal is to just continue to move forward. As a group, we're just trying to bond together and along with not only our (linebacker) room, trying to help the whole defense come together as one."