First Generation Beaver

JORDAN JONES: ORANGE SLICES AS A SOCCER KID. A DIFFERENT ORANGE NOW.

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"You only have so many minutes on campus. It’s something special, being in college, being a student-athlete. These are the years I’ll have with me for the rest of my life, the memories, the bonds I’ve made with my brothers, my teammates. That’s something I’ll carry with me."

JORDAN JONES
Sociology

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It always starts with one person making one decision.

Could be one generation back. Could be two. With some, it’s even three or more. But ask anyone who spent the best four years of their life at Oregon State University and there’s a decent chance they’ll say part of the reason they decided to go there was because their mother or father made the same decision before them - just like their grandmother or grandfather.

That bright orange lineage has to start somewhere, right? That one moment when the pride is born and begins to grow – awaiting the next generation almost as much as those in the here-and-now. And if, someday down the road, Jordan Jones of the Oregon State men’s soccer team has a child who grows up and makes the same decision he did? Well…you get the picture. It always starts somewhere.

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“Oh yeah, orange slices every weekend,” Jordan says with a smile that’s a perfect match for the competitive gleam in his eyes. “My parents driving me to every practice, every game. That was us.”

Yep. Common tale. A five-year-old boy chasing a soccer ball bigger than his head on a Jamboree Saturday, a few hundred other kids running all over the adjacent fields doing the same. Orange slices at the break. Always orange slices. Then back out to chase the ball some more.

But things changed when Jordan hit middle school - because that’s when he wasn’t just chasing the ball anymore. He was controlling it. Controlling it with speed, right up until it would leave his foot and find the back of the net.

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Story by Mike Rich

Mike Rich is an Oregon State alumnus and award-winning screenwriter. His credits include Finding Forrester, The Rookie, Radio, The Nativity Story, Secretariat, and more.

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“I guess that might have been when I saw myself having a future in soccer,” he says with casual confidence, not even close to off-putting. It’s just that…he saw it. Saw it in sixth and seventh grade – then really saw it when he got to Pacific Grove High, situated in a small beach town near Monterey about two hours south of San Francisco.

It’s right about the time Steve Simmons saw it too. The Beavers’ head soccer coach was deep into the construction of a Pac-12 program that had already guided three players into the first round of the MLS Draft. It’s a team structure, for certain, but it’s built in a way that allows (and encourages) individual excellence – especially if you’re a fast and talented forward who can run all day. As Simmons describes it, “We’re creating a niche for incoming attacking players. Know how Penn State is Linebacker U? We want to be Striker U.”

Which is precisely the type of player he saw when Jordan showed up at one of the Beavers’ high school soccer camps. Simmons remembers the first time huddling with his staff after watching Jones play, telling them, “This kid’s unbelievable. His ability to move...there’s something there, something different.”

The other thing different was that Oregon State had now become the kind of destination choice Simmons envisioned when he came to Corvallis. Jones says of his coach, “He’s got such a high IQ for the game. That’s why I decided to come here. That, and the past success of the forwards.”

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For Jordan, the future couldn’t come quickly enough. Graduating from Pacific Grove High in just three whip-smart years, he got a head start on his career at “Striker U” in early 2014. And his start wasn’t a shaky one. Not even close – as he scored eight goals in sixteen starts, including the game-winning goal in the Beavers’ NCAA Tournament win over the University of Denver. All of that would merely serve as the table-setter for his team-leading nine goals during his sophomore year. Coach Simmons smiles and says there’s a simple reason for Jordan’s success: If there’s a ball in the open field, and it’s up for grabs, odds are good he’ll get there first. He always gets there first.

But there was one more thing Simmons was noticing with his young forward, something he’d seen with most of his players – and that was Jordan’s growing affinity for all things Oregon State. You see, Jordan’s parents didn’t go to school in Corvallis, in fact they didn’t even play sports, which probably explains their perfect level of parental/fan support over the years. The closest connection he had to Oregon State was his older brother, who was majoring in music at, of all places, the University of Oregon. “He and I are total opposites,” Jordan says of the friendly sibling rivalry. “He doesn’t care much about sports, so he doesn’t have a problem coming up to watch me play.”

Jordan, though, does care about sports - a lot, and not just soccer. Simmons recalls one January night in particular when he asked Jordan to host a group of visiting high school recruits. Wayne Tinkle was in his first year as men’s basketball coach and his squad had been seriously over-achieving since game one. With Jordan, his guests, and a few thousand other fans watching at historic Gill Coliseum, the Beavers stunned then seventh-ranked Arizona 58-56.

In the thick of the on-court celebration afterwards, Simmons found Jordan cheering and high-fiving, eyes aglow – not a soccer player in that moment, but exactly the same as everyone else at Gill: a fan. The young soccer forward cut through the crowd toward the man who helped bring him to Corvallis and said, “Coach? I just love Oregon State.”

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One person. One decision. It has to start somewhere.

Sometimes it’s because a parent went to OSU. Sometimes a grandparent or two. But the one thing it always is, even for the first of the lineage to set foot on the Oregon State campus – is the experience. The experience former Beavers told Jordan he needed to love while he’s here, because it’ll be gone in a heartbeat and there’s no going back.

The first part’s right. The four years do end. But you can always go back. Think Jordan doesn’t know that? Just listen as he says, “You only have so many minutes on campus. It’s something special, being in college, being a student-athlete. These are the years I’ll have with me for the rest of my life, the memories, the bonds I’ve made with my brothers, my teammates. That’s something I’ll carry with me.”

And with an awareness that sometimes isn’t there with someone so young, he adds, “At least I’ll know years from now that I’ll always be able to come back. I’ll always have family here.”

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Bumps in the road, yes. Times that challenge us, of course. But the one thing every one of us shares, Beavers who bleed orange and black, are the experiences and the memories. The best years of our lives. Our home.

The pride of the soccer program at Pacific Grove High in California is smart enough to already know it - the first player from his high school to play Division 1 collegiate soccer. The kid whose parents drove him to practice, to the Saturday games, the Jamborees - years before he’d find out that Oregon State was the perfect fit.

Steven Simmons was right. Jordan got there first. He always gets there first.

We probably shouldn’t be surprised though. Who knows? Maybe the orange slices had something to do with it.