Mike Jones admits that he didn't realize that he was among the Major Arena Soccer League leaders in blocked shots until a writer told him earlier this week.
Jones is tied for second place behind the Florida Tropics' Chad Vandegriffe, with 36 blocked shots
He's just doing his job.
"Defending is my job. Defending is what I do best," Jones said earlier this week. "My job is to do defending. If I do that to the best of my ability, block as many shots, put my body in front of the ball, sacrifice whatever I need to, so it prevents a goal. I will do that every single game."
The 33-year-old Jones is one reason why the Dallas Sidekicks are on the verge of clinching a Major Arena Soccer League playoff berth.
"I mean, that would be everything to us," Jones said, especially for someone who regularly sacrifices his body.
"There's tons of very great athletes, great defenders in the league who deserve honors. I’ve just been fortunate to be at the top of the board for now. I don't really look too much at that. I didn't even know that because I just I guess I just focus on doing my job. ... I humbly appreciate all the defenders in the league. There's some amazing ones and hopefully one day I can be considered an amazing defender."
Jones has done pretty well this season.
The question was put to Jones: Is there an art of blocking shots?
"No, there's not, just because you don't know where the ball is going to go," he said. "All you can do as a defender is literally just get your entire body in front of the ball. Do not turn. The No. 1 thing is do not turn your body. You are literally there to sacrifice every inch and piece of your body."
That includes, like it or not, a defender's face.
"A couple have put me down a little bit. But it's helped us secure victory and that's what they brought me in for," Jones said.
One of the 6-3, 206-lb. Jones' most memorable blocks came during the Sidekicks' 6-4 home over the Harrisburg Heat on Feb. 5. A Heat player shot from the top of the box, nailing Jones on the side of one of his ears.
"I've had a concussion before, so I know the feeling and I had that same feeling," he said. "I had to square my body. I didn’t know where the ball is going to go because it was so close. It could go higher; it can go low. I saw it coming. At the very last minute, I turned my head because it's coming right at my face. What a great knuckle shot. That one put me down for a good couple of minutes."
Jones said he returned to action six minutes later.
While defending a power play against the Kansas City Comets' 5-on-3 power play last Sunday, Jones was clocked in the face again. "Luckily, it didn't hit my ear," he said. Dallas recorded a 7-3 home win.
While growing up in St. Louis, Jones took up soccer at the age of four. He was good enough to play as an attacking for such big-time clubs such as the Scott Gallagher SC.
He also learned to be resilient. Jones said he was cut four or five times from some top teams "just because I wasn't good enough." So, he got better and was good enough to attend and play for Southern Illinois-Edwardsville, where he was switched to defense.
"Just having that very competitive drive has always been the thing that's pushed me the most," Jones said. “I hate losing. I hate giving up goals. I hate when someone beats me. … If I do my job, that helps me sleep at night because let me tell you, I do not sleep at night when we lose.”
Family also had a lot to do with.
"My mother never let me quit," Jones said.
So did a unique and incredible family tradition.
"My background is a little crazy because my dad had seven brothers: four them playing NFL two playing the NBA. My mom had two brothers. They both played in the NFL. I have a whole bunch of a whole line of professional athletes."
For the record, Jones' father Tim played for the Houston Oilers in the NFL. Uncles Mark and Alvin Robertson had stints with the New York Giants and cousin Brandon Gibson has competed for the St. Louis Rams, Miami Dolphins and Philadelphia Eagles.
Uncles Mariel and Marvin Jones have played basketball professionally.
"There's a heavy weight on your shoulder for being a boy in the family and not being a professional athlete of some sort," Jones said.
Jones’ professional journey began when Sporting Kansas City selected him in the second round of the 2011 MLS supplemental draft. He didn't stick but signed with the New York Red Bulls later that year. Jones made his debut in a 2-1 win over FC New York in the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup. He also was included in the squad for the 2011 Emirates Cup, though he did not play against Paris Saint-Germain and Arsenal.
Still, it was an education and a half, given the resume of his teammates - French great Thierry Henry, Mexican international Rafa Marquez and future U.S. men's national team defender Tim Ream of St. Louis.
"It was a masterpiece," he said. “I was involved with an all-star game every training session. The energy was insane. Even if I didn't play one game, just being there to learn and being around them in the locker room was insane."
Jones learned a lesson when he stole the ball from Henri during an intrasquad game.
"I got really excited when I did it," he said. "I was so nonchalant on giving the ball up quickly. He came after me. He tackled me. I was about to pass the ball. It was a very humbling thing like, 'Hey, you're a rookie, settle down.' That was an amazing experience."
Henri was in a different orbit than most players.
"He's such an awesome person," Jones said. "Every loss that we took, just the passion and hearing his voice. I just I really valued that."
Wanting to spread his wings, Jones received his release from the Red Bulls and signed with FC Hjorring of the Danish first division for the 2012-13 season.
"Going overseas and playing, that's a whole other dream," he said.
Denmark, however, didn't exactly turn out on what Jones expected. He signed a four-year contract but lasted one season.
"I got really burnt out from it," he said. "Over in Europe, it's a whole different type of dedication. There's offense practice, defense practice. There are special teams. There are corners. We take a break and go back again for another session for two hours. You take a break, and you go back in for another session. It's non-stop and having that experience for you was just insane."
Jones returned to the states. In 2014, his wife at the time sent a video email of Jones to the Sidekicks. They liked what they saw and called him in. Jones stuck and played with the team – under another legend – head coach Tatu - through the 2018-19 campaign, the Mesquite Outlaws for a year before returning to Dallas this season.
With three games remaining in the regular season, the Sidekicks (10-10-1, 30 points) are close to clinching a playoff spot. They host the Milwaukee Wave (7-12-1, 22) on Thursday night and the Ontario Fury (9-10-2, 28) on Saturday night.
Dallas began the season with three consecutive defeats before firing its coach. The Sidekicks quickly rebounded.
"This franchise has a lot of history," he said. "We have we have an opportunity to extend that history. We put that on our shoulders, and we carry that weight this year. Just being in the playoffs is something that we humbly would love."
Competing in the postseason is one thing, making a statement is another.
"There's a lot of great clubs out there," Jones said. "It's really crazy because this year seems like the league is a bit more even just because there's amazing players on every team. We just feel like this year this is this is our year. Our job is just to make the best of it. Having the thought of making playoffs is amazing. We don't want to just make the playoffs. Winning a game in the playoffs [is]. We wear this on our shoulders."
It certainly wouldn't be surprising if Jones blocks a few more shots along the way.
Michael Lewis, the editor of FrontRowSoccer.com, can be followed on Twitter at @SoccerWriter. He can be reached via email at Michael@FrontRowSoccer.com. His book Alive and Kicking: The incredible, but true story of the Rochester Lancers, recently was published. It can be purchased at https://tinyurl.com/2p8rzhpy.