Jordan Ehart and Quantrell Jones have known each other for more than a decade since they began playing club soccer for the Baltimore Bays. Even then, there was a noticeable difference between the 8-year-olds.
“The thing that I remember the most was that he was a foot taller than everyone,” the 5-foot-11, 170-pound Ehart said with a laugh. “He was huge, and I’m not exaggerating. He was absolutely ginormous. … I still have a picture that me and my family always joke about because it’s all of us maybe 5 feet tall, and then he’s just ginormous.”
Jones — who attributed his 6-foot-3, 230-pound frame to his 5-foot-11 mother Kelly, who dabbled in basketball — said he remembers the photo Ehart referenced.
“My mom was always tall, and I got the height gene,” he said. “So I was always a foot taller than everybody growing up. Everyone was shorter, but I didn’t really mind that. I was kind of the Bigfoot of the group.”
The friendship between Jones, a Baltimore resident and Kenwood graduate, and Ehart, a Severna Park resident and Mount Saint Joseph graduate, that took root as adolescents has continued to grow as their athletic careers have intertwined at UMBC. Last month, the men’s soccer program announced that juniors Jones and Ehart — the former a goalkeeper, the latter a center back — were two of three captains selected for the 2020-21 academic year along with sophomore defender Julian Conze.
“It definitely means a lot to both of us,” Ehart said. “It’s pretty cool how we met each other when we were just 8 years old, and now we’re both captains together. And we’re both junior captains, which doesn’t happen very often. So we both want to leave our marks on the program for the future. We want to make sure that the program is in good hands.”
Years of playing together for the Baltimore Bays and then the Baltimore Celtic Soccer Club have helped the duo develop a rapport, usually resulting in nonverbal communication. Jones said he can always depend on Ehart to cover the net behind Jones if he is out of the goal to make a save, and Ehart said he has no hesitation passing the ball back to Jones.
Retrievers coach Pete Caringi Jr. said the on-field trust between the pair is obvious.
“It’s almost like they can read one another out on the field, especially between a goalkeeper and a defender,” he said. “It’s almost like a second nature where you know what the other one is going to do versus taking a while to get used to playing with someone. Especially with a goalkeeper and the guys playing in front of him, that can take almost the whole season. But with those two, it almost clicked from the very beginning.”
By the very nature of his role that requires him to call out defensive sets and direct his teammates to favorable defensive positions, Jones has been a natural leader in 23 starts of the 28 games he has played. On the other hand, Ehart, who has made 28 starts in 31 games, has nurtured a comfort level sharing the reins with Jones.
“Jordan has been growing, and he’s now taking that leadership role more seriously,” Jones said. “He’s communicating to the guys and sometimes he talks more than I do. He just gets things out more than I do, and it’s good to see him do that.”
Because the coronavirus pandemic has suspended fall sports and there is some uncertainty about whether there will be a season in the spring, Ehart and Jones have assumed a greater role helping the team stay in shape and concentrate on honing their craft. Still, entering the fall with no games is unfamiliar territory.
“It’s definitely different from anything we’ve seen,” Ehart said. “But I would say that we just tell the guys that eventually, we are going to have a season. So we need to stay focused and work hard so that whenever the season does come, we’ll be as prepared as possible and give ourselves the best shot we can to win a championship.”
Caringi, who said he knew in the spring that Jones and Ehart would be captains, said he frequently contacted them and Conze during the summer.
“I was trying to communicate with them and just trying to see where their heads were and make sure that they were communicating with the rest of the group,” he said. “Knowing that those two get along very well, I knew I was going to get more of a straight answer from them. By communicating more with them during the pandemic, I think it’s making us better as a team because we’re much further along from that standpoint than if I had come in now and started assigning captains. I think they were more prepared, too.”
Jones said he and Ehart have tried to be more proactive.
“We’ve been having talks almost every day,” he said. “We had a meeting about a week ago just on the team rules, and me and him talked about it, and we stayed after with the leadership group just to hammer out the details on what our goals are, what our expectations are.”
Caringi described the team captains as an extension of himself and said they will be integral to the team’s success. That might sound like pressure, but Ehart and Jones said they embrace the challenge and have relied on the examples set by predecessors such as back Kyle Saunderson and midfielders James Gielen and Patrick Jean-Gilles.
“It’s something that we enjoy having,” Ehart said. “We enjoy having that responsibility of leading the team because I know when we were young guys, we looked up to the leaders of the team. So now it’s just our turn to lead the younger guys. So it’s something we’re happy to do and proud to do.”
Caringi said while Jones and Ehart have blossomed in their roles as captains, the core of who they are has remain unchanged.
“Some guys can’t handle it. And some guys — once they’ve been assigned captain — it changes their personality,” he said. “One of the things that I like about these two is, I don’t think either one of them will change who they are as a player or a person. You can’t go, ‘Well, I’m the captain, and I’m going to start hollering and yelling.’ Just be who you are and make sure that you’re leading and make sure that you’re holding yourself and other people more accountable.”