FRISCO, Texas — While the rest of the Dallas defensive linemen huddled around the water during a break at minicamp, rookie tackle Joey Ivie continued to work.
He crouched into has stance, then rushed toward the goal post, blocking it with his hands. He repeated the move several times until drills resumed.
As a seventh-round pick, Ivie can’t rely on talent alone to make the team. There are 17 defensive linemen on the Cowboys roster, and competition will be intense when training camp starts Monday in Oxnard, California.
Ivie feels the presence of a partner against those steep odds: his late sister, Jordan Ivie. Since she died in a car crash when Ivie was a sophomore at Florida, his football career has been for her.
It will always be for her.
“My sister motivates me because she was a huge fan of my game,” Ivie said. “Being here makes me happy. It makes me realize she’s looking down and wanting me to succeed.”
The months that followed Jordan’s death were the hardest for Ivie, but he found healing in football and faith.
Ivie’s spirituality is something he literally wears on his sleeve: A tattoo reading “Crucified with Christ” spans his chest and lies on top of an angel wing that extends to his elbow. His arms bear scripture that he says helped carry him through the tragedy.
Now more than two years since the accident, Ivie can’t help but smile when he talks about his little sis.
“I remember she was planning on going on a big vacation with a friend for the weekend, but she was like, ‘No, I can’t go. I’ve got to get to my brother’s game.’ She loved to watch me play,” Ivie said.
She loved it so much that she planned on graduating high school early so she could join Ivie at Florida in time for her big brother’s senior year. He battled injuries his final two seasons with the Gators, but quietly put together a solid senior campaign with 26 tackles, 2.5 sacks, a blocked field goal and a forced fumble.
He wasn’t invited to the NFL combine, but his performance at his pro day was good enough to catch the eye of defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli. On draft day, the coach couldn’t contain his excitement. A video shows a giddy Marinelli pumping his fists as Cowboys owner Jerry Jones welcomed the 6-foot-3, 300-pound lineman to the organization.
Wearing Hall of Famer Bob Lilly’s No. 74, Ivie knows it will take a lot of work to fill the shoes of Mr. Cowboy, and it shows in practice.
“You’ll see him coming out of his stance just sprinting to the ball. You appreciate that coming out of Joey,” second-year defensive tackle Maliek Collins said. “That’s hard to do coming out here with practice being so tough and coach constantly on you. For him to come out here and do that, that’s impressive. He works hard.”
Ivie’s knows that being drafted is a milestone that would make his sister proud. Making the team would be another.
“It’s a big opportunity to do some great things and chase a dream I’ve been chasing for the last eight or nine years,” Ivie said. “I started playing football in high school, and I realized that God gave me an ability. I want to be able to completely take advantage of that and take that ability to the highest point possible.”