SALT LAKE CITY — His wards were the most troubled kids at Granger High and often the most unruly, but Curtis Jones managed to reach them.
The former three-sport standout at San Pedro High had stayed in Utah after his college career to raise his four children, coach high school football and chase his dreams by playing football for a second-tier indoor league.
His work with special-needs students, his never-get-down attitude and playful nature as a father were recalled Tuesday, two days after Jones, 35, died after a game in Las Vegas.
At the Joneses' home Tuesday in Orem, about 40 miles south of Salt Lake City, the phone rang constantly and friends stopped by with flower arrangements and quiet, kind words. Two large fans swirled inside the living room of the home the couple bought last summer. Daria Jones wept and struggled to maintain composure in front of the couple's children, who range in age from 16-month-old Nikiah to 14-year-old Torren.
In the midst of making arrangements for her husband's funeral Saturday, Daria Jones said she has given little thought to how she will care for her children. Friends and Jones' teammates have set up a bank account in Jones' name.
On Tuesday, Daria Jones remembered how her husband of 15 years was a fan of pro wrestling and would "play around with the kids by doing WWF moves with them." She said she still can't comprehend his death.
"He ate right, he exercised, he stretched, he jogged," she said. "He always made sure he got the right amount of potassium."
"C.J.," as the popular coach was known on the campus in West Valley City, always found a way to work his magic on the boys and girls who were unable or unwilling to fit in.
Jones also coached the sophomore girls' basketball team and often used sports as a motivational tool. A student who didn't study, didn't play.
"He's the only reason why I'm playing right now," senior Dencel Ahqiun said. "He spent extra hours with me after summer school."
As a teacher's aide, Jones was paid about $14 an hour. He also worked as a security guard at concerts to make ends meet.
Dubbed "The Bodyguard" by some of his players, the Utah Lyonzz lineman is believed to have suffered cardiac arrest, although autopsy results are pending.
Jones collapsed in the locker room after the game and was treated by a security guard and two opposing players, off-duty emergency medical technicians, until ambulance workers arrived, Lyonzz Coach Max Thomas said.
After speaking with doctors, Daria Jones does not believe Jones could have been saved.
"It's a fluke thing," she said. "His heart just gave out."
His is the fifth in a recent string of football deaths.
At San Pedro, Henry Pacheco, the Pirates' football and track coach when Jones was a student, rated Jones among the best athletes in the school's history.
"There's not too many athletes like him," Pacheco said. "Everything he did was great."
Jones was a tight end and linebacker at San Pedro, earning All-City Section recognition as a senior in 1984. Pacheco said Jones was one of only two Pirates in the 1980s to earn a college football scholarship directly out of high school when he signed with Utah.
Staff writer Rob Fernas contributed to this story.