SANTA CLARA -- The town of Scooba, Mississippi, with a population of 700, is a long way from -- and, at the same time, tantalizingly close to -- college football’s premier conference.
D.J. Jones found himself in the small town, home to East Mississippi Community College, after his grades in high school prevented him from going somewhere in the SEC or any other four-year school.
Jones said on The 49ers Insider Podcast that he was "110 percent" disappointed in himself that he ended up at the junior college that would later become the setting for the Netflix series “Last Chance U.”
However, while at East Mississippi, the school won the national championship and sent many star athletes into the NCAA Division I ranks.
But it certainly was not by choice that Jones ended up at a junior college.
“I felt like I let my entire city down,” Jones said of Greenville, South Carolina. “I felt like I let my parents down. And most of all, I let myself down. But as time went by, all the accolades started coming.”
Jones turned the negative into a positive, becoming one of the top prospects in the country and earning a scholarship to Ole Miss.
“It’s make or break,” Jones said. “Either you decide to step up and get on your academics, which was my issue, or you continue to do what you did and you go to the streets or end up in jail or you don’t amount to anything.
“I feel like junior college was the perfect place for me coming out of high school. It got me to where I am.”
The 49ers selected Jones in the sixth round of the 2017 NFL Draft. Jones worked his way into the starting lineup late last season, and he has been a key component in the 49ers’ base defense this season as the starting nose tackle.
The 24-year-old was in the middle of two tackles at the goal line during the 49ers’ first-half defensive stand against the Los Angeles Rams in San Francisco's 20-7 win on Sunday. But, mostly, his job is to take care of business on the early downs and watch his teammates get after the quarterback in passing situations.
Jones said he believes the new attacking approach of defensive line coach Kris Kocurek has paid dividends for all of the team’s defensive linemen.
“It’s a show on third down, to be honest,” Jones said. “Dee Ford, (Nick) Bosa, Buck (DeForest Buckner) and (Arik) Armstead, they’re freaks of nature. Those four guys are scary coming at you, coming at the quarterback, collapsing the pocket the way they do.
“But I couldn’t be happier with the guys that we got and what we do on first down to get to third down.”
Jones also could not be happier with the meshing of football and his personal life.
Just hours before the 49ers’ game last week on "Monday Night Football," he proposed marriage to his girlfriend Kayla Fannin on the 49ers’ sideline in front of his family and her family. Jones said the idea to propose at Levi’s Stadium was a result of discussions with Austin Moss -- the 49ers’ director of player engagement -- and teammate Solomon Thomas.
“I’ve loved the football field from a young age,” Jones said. “I fell in love with the field. And I fell in love with her. So I felt like I had to do it right then and there.”
I said YES! Soon-to-be MRS. JONES ❤️💍 pic.twitter.com/TxU8K4x1j6— Kayla Jae (@keepingupwfan) October 10, 2019
Jones said he could not drop a knee and propose before an ordinary Sunday game. Kayla's father is a pastor who has never missed a church service.
While the members of both families traveled to the Bay Area on the Saturday before the game, Jones’ future father-in-law flew in on Monday.
“We understood that he didn’t want to miss church,” Jones said. “I needed him to be here. I asked him for her hand a couple months ago. He said, ‘Yes,’ so I knew he had to be here. And he wanted to be here, so I’m glad he made it. I’m glad everybody kept it a secret.”