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Iowa defensive end Amani Jones is an involved father who envisions a special moment when he graduates in May. Listen: Mark Emmert, memmert@gannett.com

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IOWA CITY, Ia. — No one wore a bigger smile after the Iowa football team’s Kids Day practice than senior defensive end Amani Jones.

Not even the kids.

Jones peeled off his white No. 52 jersey on a hot August afternoon and headed to the south end zone to pick up his guest of honor. Amani Jones Jr., secure in his father’s muscular arms, gazed around Kinnick Stadium in wonder. Dad couldn’t stop looking and beaming.

“He was surprised, like, ‘What’s going on?’” Amani Jones recalled this week, smiling some more.

“It kind of motivates me a lot more than football did. My personal goals? No, I’ve got a whole human being I’ve got to take care of. So it’s a lot more worth it. Football is more worth it.”

Jones is one of two fathers on the Hawkeyes. Junior running back Mekhi Sargent is the other. Both have sons and have formed a bond from that. Amani Jr. is 16 months old; Jakobi Sargent is 13 months.

Their dads sometimes get together and take the boys to the park, sharing the joys of fatherhood.

“That’s an amazing feeling. Me and Amani being on the same team, being football players and we have sons around the same age,” Sargent said. “Hopefully when they grow up, they’ll just look back and be like, ‘Wow, our dads are our role models. They’re like who we want to be when we grow up.’”

The mixture of fatherhood and football at Kinnick is not new. Offensive lineman Dalton Ferguson balanced his practice schedule with helping raise twin daughters last fall. Quarterback C.J. Beathard and running back Akrum Wadley also had infants to tend to while playing for the Hawkeyes in recent years.

Broderick Binns, the team’s director of player development, has two young children as well and offers himself as a sounding board for the new fathers. They talk about diapers and feeding schedules and other concerns that are common to parents but uncommon to the rest of the Hawkeyes.

“Amani does bring his kid around a lot, so I get to hold him and get to see how big his kid is getting. And he’s big,” Binns said. “It’s great to see Amani finishing his last season of football and then obviously starting a new life with his son and imparting some of the knowledge and wisdom he’s learned here.”

Amani Jones Jr., nicknamed “J.J.,” lives in Iowa City with his mother. Jones gets to see him often.

“I’m involved. I change diapers. I put him in the bath. I do all that. I need to experience all of the parenting,” Jones said.

“It’s helped me just being a better man and learn what I’ve got to do, the responsibilities I’ve got to take care of.”

Jakobi Sargent is growing up in the southwestern Iowa town of Carson. His mother brings him to all of Mekhi’s home games, and he’ll be in Kinnick again at 11 a.m. Saturday when No. 14 Iowa (3-0, 1-0 Big Ten Conference) hosts Middle Tennessee State (1-2).

“He loves football. He loves seeing Daddy. He’s glued to the game,” Sargent said. “It’s a real good feeling, because he has a role model at his age and I just want to continue being that role model for him.”

Sargent grew up in Key West, Florida, raised by his mother, Yolanda Gardner. He matured quickly. He would wake himself in the mornings and get to elementary school on time. By middle school, he was a member of the work force, earning money to buy things he knew his mother couldn’t afford.

These are the lessons he wants to pass along to Jakobi. Mekhi chose that spelling so he and his son would both have a “K” and an “I” in their names.

“She embedded that into my mind: You’re in charge of what you want to do,” Sargent said of his mother.

“I know when he gets older, he’ll be in really good hands because I’ll be there for him.”

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Iowa running back Mekhi Sargent on his 1-year-old son Jakobi and his plans for life after the Hawkeyes: Mark Emmert, memmert@gannett.com

Sargent is hoping for a career as a professional football player down the line.

Jones wants to work in law enforcement, somewhere quieter than his native Chicago. But first he’ll earn his degree in African-American studies. He’s minoring in human relations. He’s on track to graduate in May.

“I’ll probably have my son walk across the stage with me,” Jones said. “I have to.”

Mark Emmert covers the Iowa Hawkeyes for the Register. Reach him at memmert@registermedia.com or 319-339-7367. Follow him on Twitter at @MarkEmmert.

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