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05 / 31

In the Spotlight – DeJuan Jones

WRITTEN BY: Jeremy Sampson
PUBLISHED ON: May 31, 2018

By: Seth Kinker

DeJuan Jones, 20, has had his eyes on both Lansing United and the Michigan State Spartans after being born and growing up in Lansing, Michigan.

This fall he will be heading into his senior year at Michigan State and has taken the pitch for Lansing United this season after injuries had prevented him from doing so in the past.

Love for The Game

Jones got involved playing soccer at a young age. In kindergarten one of the teachers at his school started a soccer team, his parents signed him up and thus began his love for the game.

As a kid growing up, Jones played many sports; basketball, baseball, cross country, track and field, he even got a little bit into bowling. But in the ninth grade, he had to make a choice because his club soccer schedule was beginning to interfere with his other sports.

“Ever since I was growing up soccer was always my best sport and I loved it the most, so I just knew like freshman year when soccer started getting more intense I had to let go of some of the sports,” said Jones.

Jones first got involved with the TNT Dynamite, his club team, in the eighth grade when some his classmates from his middle school and friends from other schools played on the Dynamite.

When he was in the seventh grade, Jones’ older sister was entering her freshman year of high school. A cross country and track and field standout, her parents made the decision to do school of choice and send her to East Lansing schools. Jones went with her, transferring to McDonald Middle School.

Jones was a three-year Varsity letter winner at East Lansing High School from 2012-14. During that time, he was a three-year All-Conference, All-Area, All-District, and All-Region Honoree. He made the All-State Dream Team his junior season and was named Mr. Soccer, the award annually given to the best player, his senior year.

This success caused his college recruitment to be heavy, from Western Michigan and Loyola-Chicago to B1G programs, including his childhood favorite, Michigan State.

He received a scholarship offer from Michigan State the spring semester of his junior year and committed not long after the offer, knowing that was where he’d always wanted to go.

Settling In 

In his first two years in East Lansing, Jones totaled 11 points before breaking out last year almost doubling his production with 20 points.

After suffering a broken foot late freshman year, a five-month injury that Jones said has slowed his whole progression as a player, he was able to learn and see the game from a different point of view from the sidelines.

“I could see what the coaches see,” said Jones “Just getting another look at it, a different perspective, when you’re out there you see the game a certain way but when you get to watch from the coach’s perspective you can see certain things and certain movements that you just kind of learn from watching.”

Jones said he was able to focus on his movement and defensive positioning, seeing where he should be off the ball and having more of a natural flow as the game progresses, not getting lost in the field.

“I had to get adjusted to the game,” said Jones on the reason for his breakout junior season. “I didn’t play academy, so the speed was a lot different in college compared to high school and club soccer. My sophomore year I had the hamstring injury and missed more than half the games so that was pretty tough. This year I was able to stay healthy all summer and train a lot.”

The hamstring injury sophomore year came at a time when Jones was beginning to settle in, he had just won B1G player of the week before hurting his hamstring that same day in a home game against Akron on a through ball.

“I tried to take the ball out of the air, so I jumped and as soon as I jumped I felt my hamstring give out,” said Jones. “I couldn’t even like walk, so I blew my hamstring out right away, was out for a couple months, then I was able to come back but my second game back I hurt it again. Never really got back from that.”

Last summer Jones went to South Carolina and played for the Myrtle Beach Mutiny, a Premier Development League (PDL) team that Lansing United now participates in. He called that summer a good experience, not only as an experience living on his own but what he learned playing for the Mutiny.

“There was a good coaching staff down there, so they helped me grow as a player and see what I could do in the field,” said Jones. “Then just applying all that stuff I learned there this past season and (coming up) in the fall, but I’m just always looking to get better.”

Lansing United

Growing up in Lansing, Jones had always heard about Lansing United, when he was in high school he wanted to play for the team but had club soccer responsibilities.

“I actually played for the team two years ago, but I had a foot injury, so I was sidelined pretty much the whole summer except like two games,” said Jones. “I got in and I got hurt again… it’s good to finally be able to play this summer for Lansing United, my hometown team.”

Lansing United utilizes talent within the state of Michigan and Jones was on their radar early.

“He was a local standout player, so we naturally wanted to get him in our system,” said Lansing United Head Coach and General Manager Nate Miller.  “He was a priority for us to bring in. He got hurt in 2014 and we were still in the National Premier Soccer League (NPSL) in 16/17. When that happened, he had taken some big steps as a player and went to the PDL, to the Myrtle Beach Mutiny, one of the best PDL programs in the country.

This year is the first year Lansing United is participating in the PDL after spending the last four years in the NPSL. The PDL is a better path for players to professional soccer and Jones has seen the difference playing with the Mutiny and against prior competition that Lansing United had played in the NPSL.

“The first year I played with Lansing United I just had to watch from the sidelines (with my injury),” said Jones. “Just from playing and watching from the sidelines, the PDL is a stronger league. A lot of top college players are playing in this league so it’s definitely  a tougher league and better games which will help our team as well as us, individually, as players.”

After joining the PDL this past season, getting Jones back in a Lansing United uniform was a priority for Miller. The PDL differs from college with its own cycle, starting in the summer rather than in the fall. Miller waited until the completion of the Spartans season before reaching out to Jones about playing for Lansing United again.

“There’s a lot of turnover every year, guys all have different situations, guys graduate and you bring in new players,” said Miller. “So, when we went PDL I wanted to drastically overhaul the roster with talent. I really wanted DeJuan to come and not just be a player for us but a leader. DeJuan has a great demeanor about him, he can connect with people and he brings it every training session I don’t just say this, he really is our hardest worker every training session. There’s the tangible reasons why we wanted him and the intangibles.  I think he’s gonna be an MLS player. Now he’s the captain of the Lansing United PDL team, first in the division, so it’s worked out and he’s done really well.”

“On the field, he’s improved so much,” added Miller. “He’s always had the physical tools. Pace. Agility. Power. What he’s gotten so better at is just his balance on the ball. His first touch is very intentional in the sense he can break away from pressure really expertly on his first touch.

“His overall tactical understanding is growing weekly. He understands the spacing and he understands himself, and where the most dangerous places for him to be are. He used to be a guy that, because of his pace created chance after chance. Now he’s just so efficient. He has this killer ability now because his technique in the box from different angles have developed. When you start becoming efficient in the box is when your game totally changes.”

Miller noted that his ability to stay calm after getting the ball is one of the biggest improvements he’s seen in Jones, in addition to tactical understanding.

I think its awareness combined with the cool calm collected ability in the box to finish because there’s quite a lot of players in our country, we have good athletes, who are really good athletes who can get it in the box and be dangerous,” said Miller. “It’s a totally different deal to be in the box and be ruthless. The first few weeks here he’s absolutely tearing it up. I see him improving game to game right now.”

Jones leads Lansing United in PDL matches with 3 goals and 7 points. He scored the first goal for Lansing United in the PDL in their match against the Michigan Bucks, a left-footed, near post, one-timed, falling away rocket that won goal of the week honors. He’s been on the PDL team of the week twice and has been named to the PDL 2018 Top Prospects list (32).

Jones has done all of this in only two games, he’s missed the past two weeks at the Ultimate Training Camp. Ultimate Training Camp is a sports camp through the Christian sports ministry Athletes in Action that blends faith and sports.

Jones, whether it be playing for the Spartans or Lansing United, has enjoyed playing so close to home.

“Going to East Lansing, I had a great community behind me in Lansing,” said Jones. “To see that same support I got in high school, the same people coming out and supporting me at the next level, be that in college or a Lansing United game, is really awesome. It feels nice for them to call my name in a Lansing United uniform.