(photo: David Linney)
By Dan Barnes
JODI Jones shunned some of the biggest names in English football as a youngster and believes he couldn’t have made a better career decision.
The Coventry City winger, who began his professional career at Dagenham & Redbridge, is closing in on 100 senior appearances and could well do so before he celebrates his 20th birthday in October.
The teenager started out with Senrab FC, the revered East London Sunday League side where John Terry, Sol Campbell, Ledley King and Jermain Defoe began their careers – but when scouts from the Premier League came knocking, a young Jones refused to have his head turned.
“I went there when I was about six,” said the 19-year-old. “With the players that have come out of such a good Sunday League team, there are so many scouts there and, at a young age, loads of teams came in for me.
“But my godfather (Terry Adams), who’s basically like my agent, suggested I should stay at Senrab and have fun.
“Most London clubs, like Arsenal and Chelsea (showed interest), but I sort of blocked it off and stayed.
“I wanted to have fun, and do it when I got into my early teenage years.”
Jones did have brief spells with Arsenal and West Ham, but in the summer of 2014 he joined Dagenham at Under-13 level.
As an East Londoner, he didn’t waste time making an impression at Victoria Road and, in November 2014, was handed a squad number, despite being only a first-year scholar at the time.
Three months later, aged just 17, he came off the bench against Portsmouth in the closing moments of a 0-0 draw and became the Daggers’ youngest-ever player to feature in a league game.
Jones, who believes he could easily have been swallowed up by the Premier League academy system and become just another face in the crowd, loves it when a plan comes together.
“I’ve not really had the chance to play against many people my own age because I missed out the youth level,” said the pacey wideman, who was a keen athlete as a youngster and had a national ranking at Under-15 level in the 800 metres.
“I got thrown straight in at the deep end but I just got on with it. I like playing against older people because I feel like it’s more of a challenge for me.
“I didn’t really play Under-18 games, just one in the FA Youth Cup for Dagenham and I had to literally beg the manager to let me play in it.
“I could have been at a Category One youth team and done the same thing (as other people) but I like starting from the bottom. I liked playing men’s football as soon as I could.
“Most people my age are still playing U23s or in youth teams, but I think the best thing to do, and my advice for people that are 16 or 17, is to play men’s football as quickly as you can.”
On the opening day of the season, Jones enjoyed another breakthrough moment as he scored all three goals in Coventry’s 3-0 win over Notts County, bagging his first senior hat-trick.
He may be of tender years but, seemingly by design, he has earned his senior stripes at a rate of knots and could prove a key man in the Sky Blues’ bid to return to League One at the first time of asking.
Jones added: “I feel like one of the more experienced players on the pitch now, even though I am 19, which is crazy.”