By Andrew Preston
Barefoot in the streets. Dust flying in his face.
Jones, originally from the Republic of Sierra Leone, grew up playing the world’s most famous sport without any formal rules.
But that didn’t stop him from playing with just his bare feet, literally, and a ball. That is, when he had time.
“You’re playing for fun over there,” Jones said. “The
competition is not as much, because we get the chance to play only when we are not working in the field. When I came to the United States I had to learn all the rules of how to play the game.”
For the first 14 years of his life, soccer in the streets and barefoot was all Michael knew. He was content. That’s all he cared for. The occasional pickup game with friends, if he had his work done.
Until tragedy struck. Michael’s biological father passed away in 2009, forcing his biological mother left with nine children to care for.
Jones, along with his seven younger siblings, was adopted by Mike and Hayley Jones from “The Raining Season” orphanage in 2010. He and his siblings made the move to Franklin, Tennessee and his new adoptive dad helped him adapt to the American style of soccer.
“He had to learn it all, he had never worn cleats before,” Mike Jones said. “He hardly played with a soccer ball before he came home.”
Although the five-hour time difference forces infrequent communication, Jones uses Skype and What’s App to keep in contact with his family in Sierra Leone.
After the three-year adoption process was completed, Jones and his brothers and sisters made it the United States on March 19, 2013.
For Jones, adjusting to the American culture was the hardest part.
“The language, the food and balancing my time were all difficult,” Jones said of his transition. “Back home you don’t have a schedule really, you just do things as you go.”
Mike Jones says he always thought he would adopt a child from Africa. Mike and his wife Hayley first considered adoption after they had troubles with their first biological child.
“What crazy person adopts eight kids?” Mike Jones said. “We felt God calling us to do more. We didn’t know what more was, if it we would adopt two or three or how many.”
March 19, 2013: Michael’s initial reaction to the Music City?
“It was so cold,” Jones said. “I had never seen snow before in my life. So, being able to go skiing and sledding (when I got here) was so much fun.”
Upon Michael’s arrival to the United States he was required to be tested for educational placement.
“I tested at a third-grade level,” Jones said. “I did home-schooling to catch up, but everything was so new to me.”
“He did school online at first,” Mike Jones said. “In four years, he did about the equivalent of six years of schooling.”
After completing his middle school coursework, at a rather speedy pace, Michael was ready to enroll in a United States high school for the first time.
“I tried Summit for a few days, but I wasn’t really liking it,” Jones said.
Grace Christian Academy was the obvious fit for Jones, whose family attends Grace Chapel.
Over his three-year career at Grace Christian Academy, Jones tallied 147 goals, and 49 assists, quickly becoming the school’s most decorated athlete.
“The last three years we built our program around Michael Jones,” said David Defabtta, Grace Christian Academy soccer coach. “As we move on without him next season it will be interesting to see how our program adapts.”
“We’re hoping that one of his younger brothers will come and play for us,” DeFatta said. “He’s left some pretty big shoes to fill.”
Jones’ decision to become a Trojan was simple.
“I found Lipscomb and Belmont, and Trevecca during the summer soccer camps,” Jones said. “I came to Trevecca’s camp, and I really liked it and Coach Leavy, so I toured the school and loved it.”
After making the 5,000-mile trek across the Atlantic Ocean, staying local for a higher education was the only option.
“I just came (to the United States),” Jones said. “So, moving to another state would be another new challenge. I didn’t want to do that.”
So Jones chose to be a Trojan, where he has been able to develop his faith.
“Being in the Christian environment really helps you stay on task,” Jones said. “If you go to a big school, you may lose focus. You can still get lost at a Christian school, but it’s much easier to stay motivated on the reason you are in school.”
Although Jones’ major is still undecided, he says he wants to pursue a career in the medical field.
“If God gives me the opportunity, I would love to play for a professional team one day,” Jones said.
As a Trojan, this season Jones has played 10 games, scoring one goal and tallying three assists.
“Off the field, his perspective on life and his faith, he brings us a great perspective on God’s grace,” Leavy said. “On the field, he has a tremendous opportunity to have an incredible impact on our team.”