Josh Jones does things on a soccer pitch that most players his size can only dream of.
It’s a unique set of skills that’s made the rising North Penn senior a top player in the Suburban One League and the state of Pennsylvania plus a coveted prospect at the next level. Jones came with the physical attributes but breaking the mold for what he could do with them is what sets him apart.
Sunday, he made the coaching staff at Louisville very happy when he gave a verbal commitment to join the Cardinals after his senior year at North Penn.
“The big thing for me, Louisville is one of the best teams in the country and they’re competing in the ACC,” Jones said. “They play Duke, Clemson, UNC, schools like that and I think I should be playing at the highest level I can. When they started recruiting me, I fell in love with the school, the city and the team to where it felt like the best fit for me.”
Usually, when a high school soccer team shows up for a match with a guy standing 6-foot-5 or taller, opponents figure them to be a center back or maybe a target forward. While those are both important roles, they’re not exactly positions known for an abundance of technical skill.
Jones said the Cardinals coaches envision him playing center back or holding midfielder, but he’ll give them plenty of other options to think about. This past fall, Jones played as a center midfielder for the Knights although it again wouldn’t be fair to shoehorn him into just that singular role.
“It just shows how much extra work I’ve put in technically to improve my feet,” Jones said. “There are a lot of big guys out there who aren’t as strong with their feet or move the way I think I can. I put in a lot of work the last two summers no one saw, working with the ball at my feet, dribbling through cones, things like that and I think it really paid off.”
Jones had plenty of potential suitors for his services at the collegiate level before narrowing his list to a final four of Louisville, Penn State, Army West Point and Temple. Each contender had something Jones felt was hard to turn down, from the strong bond he had built with the Army coaching staff, to the positive direction Penn State was trending under first year coach Jeff Cook to his history with Temple, the first program to recruit him.
The Cardinals are a relative newcomer to the power structure in college soccer, reaching the NCAA title game in 2010 but have been consistent. Louisville has qualified for the NCAA tournament in 11 of the past 12 seasons with quarterfinal appearances in 2011, 2012, 2016 and 2019.
“At Louisville, I think they have the No. 4 or 5 recruiting class for 2020, so they’re bringing in top talent from around the country,” Jones said. “I had a good conversation with my club coach about it the other day and he said there, everyone’s going to be at the same level, there will be some national team guys, I may be the only guy who didn’t play for an academy but I think I’m ready and I can play with any of them.”
It was no surprise Temple was the first program to come after Jones. His father David is a former coach with the Owls and a major influence on Josh’s rise over the past three years. In an era where many top players forego high school soccer to play for a developmental academy team, David Jones didn’t want his son to see that as the only option.
After helping lead the Knights to their first District 1 and PIAA titles this fall, Josh Jones couldn’t be happier his dad showed him another path.
“I’ll be honest, I always wanted to go academy since I was little because I thought it was the highest level,” Jones said. “I had not envisioned playing high school soccer and in eighth grade, the Union reached out to my dad wanting me to come and train.
“He said no because he wanted me to experience one to two years of high school soccer. Now, I’m committed to an ACC school and never went academy so it shows other kids they can do that too.”
Last summer, Jones had to opportunity to spend 10 days in Spain training at Real Madrid’s facilities with an Adidas Select team of players from all over the United States.
While Jones always had the skill, the key to putting it all together on the field was finding inner confidence. The SOL Continental is a very tough league and making varsity as a freshman helped Jones see he had what it took to stick with older and stronger players.
Aside from giving high school soccer a chance, David Jones wanted Josh to play high school basketball. That didn’t happen until this past winter, but it was a win-win for the younger Jones and the Knights’ hoops team.
North Penn shook off a slow start to reach the PIAA 6A tournament and Jones ended up as the team’s top scorer with his size and athleticism translating to the hardwood well.
“It really grew my confidence,” Jones said. “I hadn’t played competitively in about three years, so the beginning of the year I was a little tentative but as the year went on, I realized I can do this and ended up being our leading scorer, so I want to carry that into next year.”
Jones, who was a co-captain this fall, expects to be a leader for a Knights soccer team that has a lot of talent and scoring to replace from the state title team. The senior-to-be is no stranger to being a player with a target on his back and he’s eager to push the new standard for the program.
“Losing all those guys, it’ll be different,” Jones said. “I’ll probably have to be more involved in the attack and score more goals, which I’m glad to do and we have some other guys ready to step up and surprise some people.
“We were joking that we had that one loss last year to CB East so the only way to beat it would be a perfect season but now that we won a state championship, that’s the standard and anything less would be a disappointment.”