By David Fong
TROY — Stephen Jones entire high school career has been based on crossing the finish line just as fast as possible.
When it come to selecting a college, however, the Troy High School senior cross country and track standout found the slow and steady approach worked best.
“I didn’t want to rush this decision,” said Jones, who recently gave a verbal commitment to continue his cross country and track careers at Mississippi State University. He’ll soon sign his national letter of intent, almost two months after national signing day. “My family and I wanted to weight all of our options with a few different schools. We went with what we felt like was the best decision, both money-wise and feelings-wise.”
Mississippi State is getting a two-time state qualifier in track — Jones will be heavily favored to make a third straight appearance in the 3,2000 later this spring — and a three-time state qualifier in cross country. At last fall’s state meet, Jones placed ninth, good enough to earn him All-Ohio honors.
“I’ll be running both track and cross country,” Jones said. “I’ll probably be running the 5K in track. I used to say track was definitely my favorite, but training with Coach (Kevin) Alexander this past fall really opened my eyes more to cross country. I’m not sure I could pick my favorite so easily anymore.”
Jones said he also considered The Ohio State University, the University of Kentucky, the University of Louisville and the University of Miami, but ultimately went with Mississippi State because that’s where he felt most comfortable.
“When I went to visit there this fall, I didn’t feel like I was 10 and a half hours away,” Jones said. “It felt like home to me. My parents really liked it, too. Definitely, all around, it just felt the most comfortable to me. Southern hospitality is a very real thing, I can tell you that. Everyone was so nice down there. Their coach reminded me a lot of Coach Alexander and they have a combined team — the men’s and women’s teams practice together, like we do here.”
Not that he needed any more incentive to run for the Bulldogs, but Jones also will be reunited with a number of familiar faces. Former Trojan teammate Branden Nosker is a sophomore runner at Mississippi State, while several other Ohio runners with whom Jones is familiar also will be joining him there.
“There’s going to be a lot of talent there,” he said. “Talent-wise, it’s going to be a great group. They’ve told me they want me to be one of the alpha dogs — someone who can lead and motivate his teammates. They told me in the next two years, they want me to be in a lead position on the team.”
For Jones, it’s all been worth the wait.
“The official date schools were allowed to contact me was July 1 of last year,” he said. “Once that date hit, life just went crazy. I had a lot of schools contacting me. It was a very drawn-out process. But I took my time for good reasons. I didn’t want to rush my decision. I took the time to make sure I was making the right choice.”
Contact David Fong at firstname.lastname@example.org; follow him on Twitter @thefong