For LaJhon Jones Sr., it was time to stop coaching high school football.
His son – LaJhon Jr., currently a member of the Bryant University men’s lacrosse program – had reached the age where the world of high school athletics beckoned. At one point, LaJhon Jr. competed in football and lacrosse while attending La Salle Academy. That’s two sports and double the moments that LaJhon Sr. wanted to enjoy in real-time.
“I didn’t want to miss anything,” said LaJhon Sr., those words coming from a father who comes across as someone who was at total peace with replacing his whistle and clipboard for a seat in the stands.
For the father of a family that lives in North Smithfield, the special connection he shares with his son stems from the path chosen by LaJhon Jr. For that, LaJhon Sr. is thankful that lacrosse became his son’s preferred sport.
“It was good for me because I couldn’t be a know-it-all dad. I was literally just a father. That’s something I don’t even think would have been possible had he played football,” said LaJhon Sr. “I would be analyzing every step, every angle, every hand placement.
“I got to be a dad and not a coach/father.”
LaJhon Jones Jr. grew up in a football environment. His dad spent the 2000s as a coach at Moses Brown – first as an assistant, later as the Quakers’ head coach – before moving on to coach at Durfee High in Fall River for three seasons (2011-13).
When he wasn’t bringing water to the Moses Brown players or handing over the whiteboards so the coaches could draw up plays, LaJhon Jr. watched intently as he sat in the same room as a group of teenagers while his father used a laser pen to break down plays via film.
“Normally when you’re coaching high school football, you’re away from your family. Him being there to experience it was great,” said LaJhon Sr., who grew up in Brooklyn before moving to Rhode Island during his high school years.
LaJhon Jr. was born when his dad spent two seasons as a practice squad member of the NFL’s San Diego Chargers (1998-99), It’s an opportunity that came after a stellar four-year college football career as a linebacker/defensive end at the University of Rhode Island. That doesn’t mean that LaJhon Jr. isn’t familiar with his father’s gridiron exploits.
“He was unbelievable with his talents and how hard he worked,” is the impression gathered by LaJhon Jr. when talking with family and LaJhon Sr.’s college friends.
Naturally, LaJhon Jr. considered his father his top idol. From those impressionable years of watching his dad conduct football business at Moses Brown, LaJhon Jr. started to warm up to the possibility of carving out his own identity in a sport (lacrosse) that he was first introduced to while in first grade.
LaJhon Jr. spent his first two years at La Salle on the football team as an inside linebacker and running back. Ultimately, lacrosse won out. A goal-oriented individual, he sought a college experience where he could play lacrosse and receive a top-flight business education. In Bryant, LaJhon Jr. found the perfect match.
“It was about making my family proud, including my dad,” said LaJhon Jr. when asked about selecting lacrosse as the sport that from his vantage point represented a brighter tomorrow.
For LaJhon Sr., the front-row seat he’s been afforded to his son’s exploits on the youth, high school, and now college lacrosse level has proven to be a breath of fresh air. While his lacrosse knowledge has improved, don’t expect him to be the guy to offer advice on scooping groundballs. His specialty is football, hence why the elder Jones was perfectly content with sitting back and enjoying LaJhon Jr.’s rise in stature on the lacrosse front.
“It turned out to be the right sport for him. Everything clicked,” said LaJhon Sr., an employee of the Fall River School Department. “Plus, I got to be a fan.”
The father and son enjoyed countless lacrosse-themed road trips. For LaJhon Sr., it was important to be there as LaJhon Jr. continued to make his way as an up-and-coming prospect. From Maryland, to Colorado, to California, and everywhere in-between, LaJhon Jr. could feel the support as he took the field against his fellow rising stars.
“I’m thankful for my dad for letting me be who I am,” said LaJhon Jr., his words serving as the perfect embodiment for the 24-hour block that’s exclusively devoted to celebrating fatherhood.
“Did I like football? Yes, but lacrosse came along. He cared regardless of the sport I picked,” the son delved further.
No doubt, the long car rides to lacrosse tournaments offered the father a prime chance to convey the lessons he learned as a football player to his son.
“Focus. Dedication. Consistency. No excuses. Hard work. That’s what I took away from sports,” said LaJhon Sr. “It doesn’t matter unless you get it done.”
Like his dad, LaJhon Jr. takes the field with a defensive-laced chip on his shoulder. Bryant lists him as a six-foot, 205-pound defender. As a freshman, he started 10 of 13 games this past spring.
“My dad never liked the quarterback running through him. It’s the same when someone is playing 1-on-1 against me. I don’t want anyone to run past me and score,” said LaJhon Jr. “That’s when I picture myself as him.”
LaJhon Jones Sr. was there when his son won four straight boys lacrosse state titles at La Salle. The father was present when LaJhon Jr. was part of a Brewster (N.H.) Academy team that won a prep school title in 2019. Last month, LaJhon Sr. was in Philadelphia when Bryant captured the Northeast Conference championship.
“I’ve enjoyed every minute of it,” said the father, now seven years removed from making the call to stop coaching high school football, a move that validates his decision whenever game-day rolls around for LaJhon Jr.
“I’m still enjoying it.”
Follow Brendan McGair on Twitter @BWMcGair03