RUSSELL, Ky. — Over the course of time, the 16th Region in Kentucky has certainly seen its fair share of soccer players head off to obtain opportunities at the next level.
Russell (Ky.) product Matt Jones is simply the latest of those individuals to have received such an opportunity.
Jones — a standout soccer, cross country and track and field athlete at Russell High School — will play for Shawnee State’s men’s soccer program for the next four years, beginning with the Fall 2021 slate.
“I’m very passionate about soccer and have been since I was a little kid,” Jones said. “Very few athletes have the opportunity or even the ability to play at a higher level than high school. Being able to play at the collegiate level means a lot to me, because it proves to others as well as myself the passion and the dedication that I have for the sport.”
Throughout his high school career, Jones proved to be a standout defender for the Red Devils, showcasing his durability with 62 appearances in four seasons.
As a junior in 2019, Jones split time between the back line and goalkeeper, making an impressive 13 stops in 15 shots faced — as a backup to primary goalkeeper Joe Ewing.
While the Russell boys soccer program didn’t have the same team success as it had in the prior decade — with five consecutive trips to the regional title contest and three KHSAA regional championships (2007, 2010, 2011), Jones was simply thrilled to play for the very program that meant so much to him.
“I loved playing at Russell,” Jones said. “Yes, we surely didn’t have the season that anyone hoped for last year, but I never let that stop me from trying my hardest to better myself and my team. That’s what it meant for me to play at Russell. No matter what, I just wanted to be better, partly because of the tradition and values that my school had that were evident in the soccer program.”
In addition to competing in cross country this past season, simultaneously to soccer, Jones continued to build on a strong track career.
Competing under longtime football and track coach Lee Evans, Jones, who made an appearance in the 2019 KHSAA Class 2A State Championships in the 300-meter hurdles and placed 18th in that race, saw his 2020 get spoiled like so many others did — due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
However, in 2021, Jones came back with a fury.
In the KHSAA’s Class 2A, Region 6 Meet, Jones won the regional title in the 300-meter hurdles (44.31) and finished third in the 110-meter high hurdles (16.38) — clinching state qualifying berths in both events.
Jones later finished sixth in the state finals in the 110-meter hurdles (16.18) and finished 10th in the 300-meter hurdles (43.31).
“I’ve run track all four years of high school, and this year, I was blessed with a great season that ended with a state medal in the 110-meter hurdles and a personal record in the 300-meter hurdles. I pushed myself to make the most of it with it being my last year of running for Russell.”
Along with pursuing three different sports in high school, Jones has already achieved Eagle Scout status.
He’s also a member of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA).
With SSU’s soccer program, Jones is excited for the challenges that the program will bring to the table.
“I knew a few people who had a bit of a connection to the Shawnee State soccer program, and they only had good things to say about it,” Jones said. “I was familiar with a couple of the players through my sports, and I was interested in the foreign backgrounds within the team especially. After practicing with the team a couple of a times, I knew it was something I wanted to pursue because the entire team and coaches were very welcoming, but at the same time, they were incredibly competitive, and I loved that balance.”
Jones, who wants to become a physical therapist’s assistant in the future, knows that soccer — and sports in general — is simply a means to a greater end. ‘
With his future upon him, Jones is ready to see where his journey takes him.
“Ultimately, I want to earn both my associate’s and bachelor’s degrees in the fields that I have chosen to pursue, so that I am best equipped for my next step, whether it is to enter the workforce or take my education farther. Athletically, I hope to continue to improve my skills and abilities as a soccer player, and do my part to help the team to win and achieve at its highest levels, hopefully to the point of a conference championship at least.”
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