The Aliso Niguel High School boy’s soccer team has become one of the most exciting teams to watch this season. A big part of this is an electric striker by the name of Antonio Jones.
The junior, who turns 17 on February 24, is the perfect combination of strength and speed. His instincts on the field and his quick reflexes give him a distinct style unlike many soccer players his age.
Like many kids in Orange County, Antonio started playing AYSO soccer at a young age. But after years of playing in the youth league he suffered from a kind of burnout. So at the age of 13 he took a year off. For a kid who grew up idolizing soccer stars Cristiano Ronaldo, Neymar and Lionel Messi, it was only a matter of time before he returned to the pitch.
During his freshman year at Aliso Niguel, Antonio joined the football team and found he really liked kicking the ball. It helped bring back the passion he once had for the other kind of football. Now, that rediscovery has him contemplating a future in the game.
“My second season in AYSO, I was scouted for a scholarship into a club team, so I played club soccer from the time I was 8 years-old up until I was 13,” explains Antonio. “I felt like I needed a break from it so I kind of took a year off. But it turned out to be the best thing. When I started high school, I started to love playing again.”
Wolverines’ Coach Randy Dodge saw so much potential in the freshman, he brought Antonio into the varsity soccer team and he’s been a staple there for three seasons. “I’ve always liked Coach Dodge, not just as a coach but as a person too,” says Antonio about the renowned prep coach. “He encourages us to do our best and he’s always proud of us after every game whether we win or lose. This is probably the best team he’s had in a couple years and this the first time the school’s boys soccer team has been to the league championship in six years so he’s very proud of us. Out of all my past coaches, he’s most favorite for sure.”
“I like the intensity of the game,” says Antonio when asked what he missed about the sport. “It’s just an exciting game to play and its fun.” Antonio is starting to get scouted by colleges now and knows the pressure and competition that goes along with that.
“I’m really working on my fitness right now,” he says. “I’m lifting and working out a lot. I want to help gain more energy and that’s helping me. Plus it helps me be more active.”
While the gym has become one of his most favorite places off the field, Antonio can also be found with his head in a drawing pad working on his art. “I’ve always loved drawing since I was a kid. My art class is one of my favorite classes.” And when asked how he fits into the art crowd Antonio smiles, “I think I fit into both crowds – with the artists and the athletes.”
Like all student athletes, Antonio’s biggest challenge right now is balancing school work with athletics. “I think I do pretty well managing my time,” he says. “If I have too much homework I’ll take a break from practice and let my coaches know that grades come first. Keeping my grades up is important for me to get more playing time. And I know colleges look at that too – so it’s important.”
“Even though I go to the gym a lot and I’m busy with sports, I always try to help out around the house,” adds Antonio. “I help my cousins with their homework if they need it. My mom’s godson is like a little brother to me and he’s getting into soccer now, so I’m helping him get better.”
Ideally it’s every student athlete’s dream to get offered a scholarship and that’s definitely a possibility for Antonio who is currently being scouted by various colleges. But if a scholarship doesn’t come through, Antonio says his plan is to keep training on his own and perhaps go to a local college. “I may just join the army,” Antonio laughs. “Take a year off and see the world. Something like that and then come back and take my game to the next level.”
Taking a year off would not be advisable for any young athlete trying to make it in soccer on any level. But this is Antonio Jones and he’s shown that taking a break isn’t necessarily a bad thing.