Devell Jones had a taste of the big time. He was plucked from the streets of Jersey City to attend Don Bosco Prep, New Jersey’s premier football program and winners of the mythical national championship last year.
“I learned a lot while I was there,” Jones said. “They really changed my mindset, teaching me about hard work, about getting up early and going to school. They taught me a lot about discipline.”
But after a year of doing the daily grind of going all the way to Ramsey in Bergen County for school, staying with a family in Hawthorne while playing football, then coming home to Jersey City on weekends, Jones had enough.
“I knew I had to finish what I started in Jersey City, playing for Jersey City Recreation,” Jones said. “I grew up playing football at Caven Point and wanted to come back. I felt like I owed it to Jersey City, to my family members and friends who wanted to see me play. I had to come back to my childhood.”
So after one year at Don Bosco Prep, Jones transferred back to Lincoln High School last September to begin his sophomore year at Lincoln.
“It felt good to be home again,” Jones said.
However, the Lions had their lineup set by the time Jones arrived.
“We actually knew Devell from the Jersey City Recreation program,” said Lincoln interim head coach John Fannan. “But we told him that when he came here, he was going to start at the bottom of the depth chart. It was up to him to earn a spot. He said that was fair and that he just wanted to play and be a part of the team.”
“I actually took it as a challenge,” Jones said. “My father always told me that I had to handle challenges, that it makes me more of a man. So I worked from the bottom up. I didn’t mind. I worked my hardest just to stay on the team.”
Fannan knew that Jones had talent. All he needed was time.
“He came to camp and worked hard, learning our system,” Fannan said. “The talent was always there, no question. One of our main concerns was that Devell was coming from a big-time program, a team that was No. 1 in the nation, to a little [NJSIAA] Group II school in Jersey City. He wasn’t coming with the elite talent. He was coming to a place where there was structure.”
Added Fannan, “He just wanted the opportunity to play football.”
“I worked as hard as I could,” Jones said. “I just wanted to show the coaches that I could play.”
In Jones’ very first game with the Lions against Dover, Jones had nine carries for 191 yards and a touchdown, a 97-yard run that he took to the house.
“The touchdown came in his third carry,” Fannan said. “That was pretty impressive.”
Fannan was impressed with the way Jones paid his dues, how he patiently waited for his turn.
“He never shied away from what we had to do,” Fannan said. “His attitude was tremendous. He just waited his turn.”
Flash forward to last Friday night, when the Lions faced North Bergen, a program that Lincoln had never defeated before.
“[Assistant] Coach [Tom] Ferriero kept us up to date, telling us that Lincoln never beat North Bergen,” Jones said. “Going into the game, I was ready. The whole team had the mindset that we were going to give it all we had to get a win. I knew we could do it.”
However, the Lions fell behind early.
“I felt like I owed it to the seniors to come back and try to win,” Jones said. “It was their last shot to beat a team like North Bergen. We all came together at the right time.”
Jones was the leader of the Lions’ ground game. He carried the ball 22 times for 211 yards and a touchdown, leading Lincoln to the big 42-21 win, the first-ever win for a Lincoln team over storied North Bergen.
For his efforts, Jones has been selected as The Hudson Reporter Athlete of the Week for the last week.
Fannan knows that Jones’ effort last week was just the start of what could be a sensational career.
“Devell is the kind of kid who enjoys competition,” Fannan said. “He has shiftiness and quick feet. He knows how to avoid people. But he’s also big enough where he can come and deliver the blow. He’s well built for a sophomore [6-foot-1 and 195 pounds]. He’s also a diligent weight room guy. He has a great love of conditioning and jumps right in when we’re working out. He’s done that like no one else.”
Added Fannan, “No question that we were waiting for it to happen, that breakout game. He’s had some good games and good runs, but we knew there was going to be a game where he just took over. You could hear people saying, ‘Wow, who is that kid?’ We knew he had that ability.”
While Jones might have had a sensational game against North Bergen, the big test comes this weekend in the NJSIAA North 2, Group II playoffs, when the Lions travel to face Caldwell in the first round.
“He’s hitting his stride at the right time,” Fannan said. “During the game last week, our quarterback Isiah [Roberts] just said, ‘Let me give the ball to Devell.’ He was the first one to tell me that. He said, ‘Let him carry it and let him go.’ ”
“I know now I have to be consistent,” Jones said. “I want to be the one who gets the job done, but the coaches know what’s best. I just hope I can have the same kind of game against Caldwell. But for me, this is just the start. I have two more years. I’m just hoping for the best.” – Jim Hague
Jim Hague can be reached at OGSMAR@aol.com.