Best friends Jones, Lawrence teaming up at Youngstown State University

Photos by Ed Looman

STEUBENVILLE — DaJuan Jones and Marlon Lawrence have been playing football together for a long time.

If all goes according to plan, the two standouts on Big Red’s 2017 Division IV championship squad will have four more years of being teammates.

During a ceremony inside the Crimson Center Wednesday, Jones and Lawrence announced they will continue their football and academic careers at Youngstown State University. They both hope to make Bo Pelini’s squad as preferred walk-ons.

“I just really liked the atmosphere at YSU and the opportunity it provides for me,” said Jones, the son of Randi and DaJuan Jones Sr. “Plus, my dad is from Youngstown, and I have a lot of family there. So if I need anything, I’ll have plenty of people to call.”

Lawrence, the son of Sheila McCartney and Percy Freeman, called Youngstown State “a good place for me to go and play.”

“I looked back a couple of years ago and saw that YSU put two defensive ends into the NFL,” he said. “They have an outstanding program, and I’m really looking forward to being a part of it.”

Jones (5-9, 180 pounds) was a standout in the defensive backfield during his Big Red career and also saw time as a wide receiver. Lawrence, who stands 6-2 and weighs 290, was a standout on both the offensive and defensive lines. He really shined on the defensive side of the ball during Big Red’s perfect 15-0 season.

As a senior, Jones caught 17 passes for more than 260 yards and six touchdowns. In the reginal semifinal victory over Youngtown Cardinal Mooney, he had two receptions and one touchdown. He also recorded a key interception in the playoff victory against Salem.

For his work on the offensive line, Lawrence received second-team all-Ohio Division IV honors.

“Going to Youngstown with Marlon is going to be great,” said Jones, who continues to recover from an injury suffered during the basketball season. “We’re really close now, and I’m sure we’ll be really close up there. We’ve been playing together for a long time, so I’m looking forward to us keeping that going.”

“It’s a great opportunity for us,” Lawrence said. “DaJuan is one of my best friends. I’m really excited about us playing together again.”

Both soon-to-be Big Red graduates realize going in as walk-ons means there are no guarantees when it comes to making the team or earning playing time.

“I definitely know I’ll need to work really hard, prove myself and try to earn playing time,” said Jones, who is looking to major in nursing at YSU. “I’m just looking forward to the opportunity to prove myself.”

“I am ready for the challenge,” Lawrence said. “I’ve been working as hard as I can all my life to succeed in football. I’ll keep working hard and get ready. My goal is to walk on, make the team and make a name for myself.”

Lawrence plans to major in physical education and would like to enter the coaching field at some point.

Pelini guided his Penguins to a 6-5 record in 2017. YSU played in the Division I Football Championship Subdivision title game in 2016 and is a member of the Missouri Valley Football Conference. The Penguins are in the same conference as North Dakota State, which has won the championship six times in the last seven years. The only year NDSU did not make the game was in 2016 when James Madison defeated the Penguins.

Jones and Lawrence were part of the Big Red senior class that compiled a 41-3 record the past three seasons and reached three consecutive state championship games.

“My Big Red experience meant so much to me,” Jones said. “It was so great to play with all my brothers. We played together from middle school, and we all worked so hard. It was so much fun and so exciting.

“Everyone in my class who played football was dedicated to the sport and dedicated to being successful. It was just a great four years.”

“Being a part of the Big Red football program meant the world to me,” Lawrence said. “To accomplish what we accomplished was just great. Playing with my friends and being successful, that was just great.”

Veteran coach Reno Saccoccia thanked Jones, Lawrence and all the 2017 seniors for “everything they did for Big Red, Steubenville and my family.”

“I’m glad for them, and I wish them the best,” he said. “When things go the way they’re going right now, it’s more relaxed at home and more relaxed at school. That’s all because of the way these guys played football.

“I think the most important think in picking a school is you go where they want you. That’s sometimes hard to impress upon players because they want to go to a certain school for one reason or another. If you go where they want you, you’ll have the opportunity to develop and grow in the program. If you go somewhere where they don’t want you, you probably aren’t going to get that second or third chance.”