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For D.J. Humphries, Young Father Knew Best

Posted May 1, 2015

Career of Humphries Sr. took backseat to son's rise to Cardinals' first-round pick

D.J. Humphries Sr. is your classic over-protective parent these days, carefully bundling his four-month-old son, Diem Jase, into a car seat and double-checking the harness before every ride.

Twenty-one years ago, his first go-round at fatherhood began a little differently. In the mid-1990s, Humphries and D.J. Jr. would cruise around Union Hills, S.C., dad driving and son riding shotgun, oblivious to any safety concerns.

“I never used to be in the car seat when I was little,” said D.J. Jr., at age 21 the Cardinals’ first-round pick in 2015’s NFL draft. “I was a front-seat rider when I was with him. He was like, ‘I was so young I didn’t know any better. I know better now. I thought you would be fine.’ I was like, ‘Yeah, that’s probably why I’m so tough. You probably gave me whiplash when I was a kid.’”

Humphries Sr. and D.J.’s mother, Keisha Means, had D.J. Jr. when they were still in high school. Means was 16 and Humphries Sr. was 15. It was a life-changing moment for them both.

“You go from being a normal high school freshman to having another life you’re responsible for,” Humphries Sr. said Thursday by phone from Chicago, where he had accompanied his son for the draft.

Humphries Sr. was a gifted football and basketball player in high school. He had interest from Division I football programs, but instead chose Division II Presbyterian College in Clinton, S.C. -- where he played both sports -- because it was only 30 minutes from home. Humphries Sr. may not have had all the parenting lessons down pat initially, but it didn’t change his determination to always be present in his son’s life.

“I took a lot of visits and considered a lot of places further from home, but with him being that young, there was so much going on that I didn’t want to miss out on,” Humphries Sr. said. “I grew up without my dad, so it was a part of what pushed me to always be in his life. My biggest thing was to just be there. Whether I was doing it right or wrong, I was going to be there trying.”

D.J. Jr. alternated between living with his mom and dad growing up – moving in permanently with Humphries Sr. at the age of 12 – and they both remained key figures in his life. By the time he reached high school, D.J. Jr. was a five-star offensive tackle recruit with his pick of any college in the country. He went to Florida for three years before declaring for the NFL draft.

He was in Chicago on Thursday, where the call came from General Manager Steve Keim informing Humphries he was going to be theCardinals’ choice with the No. 24 overall pick. By Friday afternoon, he was at the team’s training facility, holding up a jersey with ‘HUMPHRIES’ stitched on the back for the assembled local media.

If not for his father’s presence, D.J. isn’t sure his life would have turned out this way.

“There’s no telling,” he said. “I could probably be somewhere – prison, the corner somewhere doing something illegal, something I shouldn’t be doing.

“It meant everything. I watched a lot of guys who grew up without their dad, who grew up in the same situation I did. Their dad didn’t stick around, and it kind of affected them negatively. I feel like him being in my life affected me positively. It means the world to me.”

Humphries Sr. got his own chance at the NFL back in 2002. While he only played two years of football in college, both the Cowboys and Ravens invited him to training camp as an undrafted free agent. He chose to sign with Baltimore but didn’t make the team, and then bounced around different Arena Football League teams until retiring from football in 2006.

In the back of his mind, Humphries Sr. knows his athletic career may have been different if he went to a higher-profile school with better coaching and amenities. But he also knows going far away for college could have done irreparable harm to the relationship with his son.

“It probably would have opened up more doors on a professional level, but looking back, it was a decision I wouldn’t change for anything,” Humphries Sr. said.

The whole family was together in Chicago for the draft on Thursday, sitting at a table, listening to the selections announced by NFL commissioner Roger Goodell. By the time the picks reached the late teens, Humphries knew his moment would come soon.

The call from Keim and the subsequent handshake with Goodell on stage were realizations of a childhood dream, but on Friday, D.J. Jr. couldn’t get over the reaction of his dad and the rest of his relatives.

“He was probably the (most hyped) at the table,” Humphries, Jr. said. “I thought he was going to break my darn shoulder blade as hard as he slapped me. He was excited. I had more fun sitting back and watching my family be excited than actually enjoying the experience. I’m just happy.”

Humphries Sr. enjoyed his last day in Chicago on Friday. The birth of his son 21 years ago may have come as a shock, but he was adamant on being a good father. Without that guidance, this journey may have never ended so well.

“He always said he wanted to play in the NFL,” Humphries Sr. said. “We pushed him pretty hard. We made a lot of sacrifices. To see him achieve it is an absolutely awesome feeling.”

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