Nearly five thousand miles separate Nashville SC's newest homegrown signing, Isaiah Jones, birthplace of Sierra Leone, in West Africa, and Nashville, Tennessee, which will be his new home. Isaiah's story is a remarkable one, and he sat down with MLSNEXTPro.com to tell us a bit about his journey from Sierra Leone to Tennessee, Black History Month, and who his biggest inspirations are.
Isaiah grew up in a small village that was a very tight-knit community. Speaking with him, it is very clear that family is everything to him. "Family is what really keeps you together, and it's where you can grow and develop as a person," Isaiah said.
Isaiah and his seven siblings (six brothers and one sister) experienced heartbreak very early in life that would ultimately change the course of all of their lives. “At a young age, my father passed away, and our mother thought the best idea for us was to be in an orphanage because at the time she couldn't provide for me and my siblings,” Jones said. He followed up by saying, “She sent us to an orphanage and would come there and visit us, just to check on us and just make sure we were doing okay.”
"Oftentimes people persuade you to do other things, but from an early age, my brother's like, this is what we stand for and this is what we believe in."
Isaiah and his siblings' bond would tighten during this time. They would lean on each other to help adapt to their new reality.
“We learned a lot together. We learned how to take care of each other, and we learned what was truly important to us. From an early age, I had to set my priorities on how I live,” Isaiah told us.
Isaiah credits his oldest brother for setting a positive example for all of his siblings. Having faced adversity from a young age, it was their togetherness that helped them get through it all.
"My older brother, Michael. He's always been a leader who's been there to take care of us and tell us that this is what we stand for, and we won't compromise that for anything. Oftentimes, people persuade you to do other things, but from an early age, my brother has been like, "This is what we believe in, whether it's our faith or keeping us close together, and going through all the adversity just helps us grow more each and every day,"" said Jones.
In 2013, when Isaiah was seven years old, he and his seven siblings were adopted by Mike and Hayley Jones. The Jones family lived in Thompson's Station, TN, and wanted to make sure they kept Isaiah and his siblings together.
“When we got to the orphanage, it was very hard to get adopted. A family doesn’t just say, ‘I'm going to adopt eight kids from Sierra Leone,’ and my parents, at the time, already had two kids. They just felt like God was calling them to adopt, and they were thinking about adopting two kids from Ethiopia, but the Lord had a different plan for them,” said Jones. He continued, “The Lord told my mom to adopt people from Sierra Leone, and then after that, my parents started looking into adopting us. It was hard because adoption is a challenging process, especially when it involves adopting eight people.”
The process took around three years to complete. The Joneses would take trips to Sierra Leone during that time to visit with Isaiah and his siblings. Those trips meant everything to Isaiah and his siblings. "When you know someone is willing to adopt, it means a lot. Not just from a computer, but actually flying over there. They'd stay sometimes for two weeks, a month at a time, and just build that connection. And then after a three-year process, they were finally able to bring us over," Isaiah said.
The transition to life in the United States wasn't an easy one for Isaiah and his siblings at first. "It was hectic and crazy. But we always had each other to go through it because when we came to the States, we didn't really know English," he told us.
The siblings' bond is what helped them adjust to life in a new country, five thousand miles from home. They would play backyard soccer with each other, where Isaiah’s oldest brother, Michael, would coach and lead the younger siblings through different drills.
At first, Isaiah didn't take to playing soccer. His interest was elsewhere. "I wasn't really into soccer. I was into action figures. I would be playing with action figures and then my brother would call me, 'Hey, let's play soccer,' but I would say 'No, I want to play with my Star Wars action figures'," Isaiah said.
“I felt like if I'm going to work at this, I've got to work harder than anybody else goes. If I'm doing this, really wanting to be a professional, I can't just halfway do it and expect to be a pro.
Isaiah continued, saying, "I got into watching it always. I just fell in love with it. And it wasn't until I was actually maybe 11 years old when I heard the Academy was coming up, and that's when I really started taking soccer seriously."
When he turned 14, he joined the Nashville SC Academy as part of the U15 team during their inaugural season in 2020. He quickly rose through the ranks due to his leadership, soccer IQ, and work ethic.
Isaiah credits his brother's influence on his work ethic. His brother saw his potential early and would push him to be better. Jones said, “I felt like if I'm going to work at this, I've got to work harder than anybody else. If I'm really wanting to be a professional, I can't just halfway do it and expect to be a pro. I have to put in the work every day, even though my friends may be doing something else. That hard work ultimately is what's going to lead me to get a professional contract. It's like if I'm pushing an average work ethic, I'm going to get an average performance. So if I'm pushing with a high work ethic, I'm going to get something more out of it.”
Isaiah signed a first-team contract as a homegrown player on February 7th, becoming the Boys in Gold's second-ever homegrown player. For Isaiah, signing a pro contract has been surreal at times. "I still can't believe I'm signing, as some days I'm just thinking, when is someone going to wake me up from this dream? So it's just really been a blessing. And my family has been with me every step of the way, helping me get through it," Jones told us.
A key part of Jones' development was his time spent in MLS NEXT Pro with Huntsville City FC. When speaking about his time in Huntsville, Isaiah had this to say: "It was a great experience. I feel like with each level I go up, I learn new things that I can add to my game. Huntsville was a step up from the academy level, and it made me realize that some of the things I thought I knew weren't working at a higher level. It helped me to sharpen my skills and pay attention to the little details. Sometimes I would take a touch too close, and at the academy level, I could get away with it. At higher levels, those little mistakes can cost you. Learning those little details early on helped me a lot."
Huntsville City's fans are among the best in MLS NEXT Pro, and Isaiah enjoyed playing in front of them. "I think Huntsville has the best crowd in MLS NEXT Pro because the fans are there day in and day out, just cheering you on. It doesn't feel like work because you have the crowd behind you. And if they're trying this loud for me, the least I can do is try to perform and give them a win," said Jones.
Isaiah's older brother, Malachi Jones, was drafted this year in the MLS SuperDraft presented by Adidas this past December. Like most siblings, Isaiah was motivated by his brother's signing for New York City Football Club.
“My competitive mind just came on it’s like, now I'm competing against you. We joke around because we are still tight, but now we get to compete against each other. It's going to be like a fun battle. I was really excited for him because when we were back home before coming here, we never dreamed of being professional soccer players. It's just really been a blessing to see both of us signing, especially at an early age because we're both pretty young and many people don't get the opportunity to sign a contract and we're doing it,” Isaiah told us.
“I hope they see a humble man because you have two options. You could think I’m 17 years old and I've done it all because I signed a professional contract or I could look at myself as a role model. I look at myself like I'm truly truly blessed."
For Isaiah Black History Month is a time to reflect and celebrate culture. “I think we have to embrace what God has done, making us all different. We all can't be the same because that would be a pretty boring world. Embrace everyone's different culture and try to better one another,” he said.
It is also a time to celebrate those who’ve inspired him. For Isaiah, that person is a former Balon d’Or winner, the only African to ever win the award. “The president of Liberia, Timothy Weah’s Dad [George Weah]. He's someone who's making an impact. Soccer lasts for a short time and God has given us the ability to play it. After he's done playing he's not just saying, let me enjoy my life because I've done it all, but he's going back to this country and helping serve. It's something I want to do too when soccer is over, to help my country. I always try to better the lives of others,” said Jones.
Isaiah speaks with the wisdom of someone well beyond the 17 years he has been alive. When speaking on impacting the next generation he said “I hope they see a humble man because you have two options. You could think I’m 17 years old and I've done it all because I signed a professional contract or I could look at myself as a role model. I look at myself like I'm truly truly blessed. Don't listen to those people who are telling you that you can't do things. Because if you put your mind to it, you can accomplish great things.”