ENGLEWOOD – It’s the night before the NFL Draft and Sam Jones is trying to relax with dinner at Shanahan’s.
A standout at ThunderRidge High School in Highlands Ranch, Jones was a three-year starting offensive lineman at Arizona State, mostly as a left guard, when he gave up his senior year of eligibility to enter the NFL Draft.
Jones knew he would probably be a Day 3 selection, but still you can imagine his nerves on Wednesday night as he sat down to eat at Shanahan’s restaurant, only to serendipitously spot a familiar stranger who held a one in 32 chance of controlling his fate.
“I went there trying to get my mind off things and sure enough I see John Elway sitting like three tables away,’’ Jones said in an interview with 9News. “I’m thinking, well, do I go over and say something or not? It looked like he was done.’’
He texted Matt McChesney, the former NFL player who now trains Jones.
“I said there’s no such thing as luck in this world, this is fate, go talk to this man,’’ McChesney said. “Go introduce yourself.’’
Jones did just that and apparently, the conversation went well. Three days later, the Broncos selected Jones with their No. 183 pick in the sixth round.
“It was kind of awkward, I didn’t know exactly what to say,’’ Jones said. “I just introduced myself and told him, ‘Good luck on a big weekend and I’d love to be a Bronco.’ And he said, ‘we’ll see if we can make it happen.’’’
When Elway called Jones at his parents’ home in Highlands Ranch on Saturday afternoon to inform Jones he was a Bronco, he referred to the Wednesday night restaurant dinner by saying “I guess it was meant to be, huh?’’
"When I talked to him on the phone I said I didn't realize we were going to be talking so soon, again,'' Elway said. "I'm excited for Sam. He's from Highlands Ranch and we feel like he's a good football player. He's got a chance to come in here and help us. What a coincidence we were able to meet.
"I did not know him. I knew of him. So it was nice that he came up and introduced himself and we had a nice little chat.''
Welcome back home, Sam Jones.
“I wish I had words to describe what I’m feeling right now.’’ Jones said in a conference call with the Denver media. “It’s a childhood dream come true. It’s just incredible.’’
Another oddity: Jones and Connor McGovern both work out at McChesney's Six Zero Strength & Fitness facility that is a few blocks away from Broncos’ headquarters. McGovern was a fifth-round draft pick in 2016 who started five games at guard for the Broncos last year.
“I find it incredible that the Broncos, his hometown team, picks him,’’ McChesney said of Jones. “He works out with Connor all the time. Sam grew up loving this team, dreaming of playing for this team. I couldn’t be happier for him. I broke down in tears. I’m so proud of him.’’
While training with McGovern, the long-locked Jones learned about a Broncos team policy on grooming before he became a Bronco.
“I was actually joking with Connor the other day because I have long hair right now,’’ Jones said. “He had long hair when he went in and they made him cut it, and I was like, ‘Man, I don’t want to cut my hair.’ He said, ‘Don’t worry about it, I think only the Broncos do that.’''
Always there's a catch to a dream-come-true.
"So I guess I’m going to have to say goodbye to the hair,'' Jones said.
Jones is a 6-foot-5, 305-pound, muddy-knuckle, block-to-the-whistle lineman who probably needs a year to develop before he seriously pushes Broncos veteran guards Ron Leary, Max Garcia and McGovern for playing time.
Jones’ parents, Forrest and Susan, get credit for instilling a strong work ethic in their two sons, Zach and Sam. Susan was a teacher for 20-plus years and is now a school bus administrator. Forrest works in the oil and gas industry.
Their oldest son Zach played two years of football at New Mexico State before back fusion surgery ended his playing days.
Sam plays on by staying put.
“I was actually just joking about that with my parents the other day,’’ Jones said. “If I get drafted by the Broncos, I might be the only guy still living with his parents. I know my mom would like it but I think I might have to get my own place.’’
Dinner at Shanahan’s probably wasn’t the primary reason why Sam Jones will now play for his hometown Broncos. But finding the courage to introduce himself to Elway didn’t hurt.
“The whole thing is just insane,’’ Jones said.