Sophomore DeJuan Jones is an impactful role player for MSU soccer
It was Labor Day, and the stands were nearly full with 1,522 in attendance at DeMartin Stadium. The game was tied 1-1, and Columbia had resisted nearly all of MSU’s numerous advances.
Seemingly out of nowhere, sophomore forward DeJuan Jones took the ball down the sideline toward the goal. Jones ghosted past two defenders, evened his shoulders and buried the ball into the bottom right corner of the net, uncorking a frenzy in the stands.
The Spartans prevailed 2-1, and Jones finished with a goal and an assist.
“It was awesome,” Demetrius Jones, DeJuan’s father, said following the game. “He’s been dreaming for this moment to score at home.”
While MSU was the home team, “home” carried a much deeper connotation for DeJuan Jones, a lifelong MSU fan and Lansing native. The game-winner he had scored back on Sept. 5 was his first ever collegiate goal scored at DeMartin Stadium.
His punctuating performance was accentuated by the fact that Labor Day weekend had brought a large local fan base to the stands. And while there was nothing new about a wave of green and white, scoring in front of the entourage of homemade t-shirts embellished with a soccer ball and “Jones #6” across the front was a new high.
“I made some good connections throughout my years at East Lansing, starting in seventh grade,” DeJuan Jones said. “Just to see that people are still supporting me, even from seventh grade, just really cool. And really thankful for that.”
Demetrius raised his son an athlete from an early age. Having played football for Western Michigan University, Demetrius Jones passed down the athletic genes to his son, but he never pushed football.
At the age of five, DeJuan Jones was branded a “special player” on the soccer pitch by his youth coach. Because of Jones’ excitement and natural ability, the decision was made — soccer it was.
DeJuan Jones progressed up the soccer ranks, traveling across the country on club tours. However, his roots remained in East Lansing, and it was in his hometown where he took his biggest step forward under the mentorship of former coach Nick Archer at East Lansing High School.
“He really taught me how to be more flexible and more versatile as a player,” DeJuan Jones said about Archer, a two-time collegiate champion at MSU. “Going in, I thought I was just a forward or a winger. But with coach Archer, he showed me that I could also play center attacking mid and really create defense.”
DeJuan Jones was a back-to-back state champion at East Lansing High School under Archer. In his senior season, DeJuan Jones was recognized as Mr. Soccer for Michigan, the sport’s highest honor within the state.
So when it came time to decide on colleges, DeJuan Jones predictably had a litany of suitors. But only one campus was on his mind.
“Western (Michigan) was the first team that really showed a lot of interest in me,” DeJuan Jones said. “But when Michigan State offered me, it was pretty much a pretty easy decision just with the soccer history here, staying within 10 miles of home, being from East Lansing just right down the street.”
Jones said he still spends time at home every week and has a 3.5 GPA as an education major.
“Those are the defining moments for us, too,” Demetrius Jones said, proudly reemphasizing the Dean’s List.
On the field, MSU head coach Damon Rensing said DeJuan Jones has an “electric personality,” and has usually been the first man off the bench this season. He’s happy in the spark plug role, especially coming off a six-month rehabilitation assignment following an injury this summer.
Integrating his pace and flair throughout his sophomore season, Jones hopes to improve on a solid rookie campaign by adding more goals. He realizes, however, that whatever the team needs to win is his priority.
“(My role is) to just be a calming piece for my team and just an offensive threat that they can look for if we’re looking for a goal or need to make a big play,” DeJuan Jones said.
Including the remainder of this season, DeJuan Jones still has three years to inscribe his imprint on the program. Demetrius Jones hopes it’s an especially memorable one.
“That’s the special part about him choosing Michigan State and being born and bred here in the Lansing-East Lansing area: that he could be able do something here and make something special,” Demetrius Jones said. “He really wants to take this school back into the top eight, final four, national championship.”
For DeJuan Jones, the dream is the same as it’s always been. In the process of elevating the status of MSU, he hopes to pave the path for a career playing soccer after college.
“That’s always been the long-term goal for me, but obviously you have to take it one day at a time, one practice at a time here at Michigan State to get to that platform,” DeJuan Jones said about his professional aspirations.
Although DeJuan Jones likes his chances, said he understands the challenges ahead. He sometimes texts Fatai Alashe, a former MSU player who was drafted fourth overall by the San Jose Earthquakes of Major League Soccer, to absorb tips and insight on what it takes to make it pro.
“I didn’t know I was considered in that group,” DeJuan Jones said when asked about being part of the clan of Lansing-area products and legends to thrive at MSU. “Hopefully, I can continue to impress at MSU and make an impact such as those guys made.”