From $200 a game to potential NFL starter: the remarkable Dominique Jones story

What have you done to chase your dream?

Probably not as much as Dominique Jones.

His football journey took him to Pennsylvania’s Amish Country, where he moved in with his coach while playing for the Indoor Football League’s Reading Express. Jones couldn’t afford rent; he earned just $200 a game.

And then things got really tough.

Over the next 4 1/2 years, Jones would sign with eight different NFL franchises.

He has been fired a staggering 13 times in his young career, including twice by the Dolphins.

The first time Miami cut him was three days before Thanksgiving in 2012. His wife had already made plans to fly in to see him for the holiday, so she made the trip anyway.

“As soon as I’m picking her up at the airport, 1/8the Colts3/8 call me back and I go right back to Indy on their active 1/8roster3/8,” Jones said. “We went right back to the house, packed my stuff up, the next morning I had to fly her back to school and I went back to Indy. That was probably like the craziest story I’ve had so far.”

Emphasis on so far.

Because Jones’ best story might not yet be written. A Hollywood ending is in reach.

With Jordan Cameron and Dion Sims both out indefinitely because of concussions, Jones and fellow backup MarQueis Gray will likely be the Dolphins’ top two tight ends Sunday against the Buffalo Bills.

“You never know what’s going on in this league,” said Gray, who caught three passes for 81 yards Sunday. “You’re only one play from being a starter, and here we are now.”

Neither is a household name, but there’s really no comparing the odds overcome by Jones and Gray to get here.

A player like Gray, a four-year letterman at Minnesota, starting an NFL game would be like hitting the lottery’s Pick 3.

A guy like Jones starting at pro football’s highest level would be like collecting the Mega Millions jackpot.

A decade ago, he didn’t even play football. He was a freshman guard at Liberty University. Basketball was the family business; dad Zack played in the NBA.

Dominique Jones ultimately decided to give football a try and walked onto the Flames’ football team.

He later followed Liberty assistant Ernie McCook to tiny Shepherd University, a Division II school on the West Virginia-Maryland border that hasn’t had a player drafted since 1979.

NFL teams weren’t beating down Jones’ door after graduation, so he signed with the Sacramento Mountain Lions in the now-defunct United Football League.

Jones didn’t get rich in the UFL, but he made enough to survive during the lean times – and there have been plenty.

Which brings us back the winter of 2012, when he and a teammate lived with Reading Express coach Mark Steinmeyer and his family during his three months in the IFL.

“His wife would come home every night and cook dinner for the family,” Jones recalled. “We were part of the family, so we ate with them.”

Dinner should be on Jones from now on. He signed his first NFL contract – with the Indianapolis Colts – in April of 2012 and has earned a real living from football ever since.

Yes, there have been plenty of setbacks, but every time a team cuts him, either from the practice squad or the active roster, it doesn’t take long for another one to pick him up.

Jones spent the 2016 training camp with the Dolphins, but they had to choose between Jones and Gray for their third tight end job. They went with Gray because of his special teams acumen.

Yet after Cameron sustained a concussion in Week 3, Jones got a call from the Dolphins inviting him back.

And Sims’ injury on Sunday might have guaranteed that Jones is here for the duration.

He played well Sunday and nearly had first NFL touchdown. Refs wiped his 1-yard touchdown catch off the board because Jones wasn’t properly lined up to start the play.

Still, Jones and Gray were more than capable blockers, helping hold the edge for Jay Ajayi, who rushed for 204 yards on 25 carries against the Steelers.

“They were very aggressive with the outside linebackers and D-ends,” Dolphins coach Adam Gase said. “It was good to see those guys really step up.”

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