Preston: Lacrosse game against Virginia has special meaning for Johns Hopkins' Danny Jones

Johns Hopkins short-stick defensive midfielder Danny Jones met Virginia’s Will Barrow for only a short time when Jones was about 9 years old, but it left a lasting impression.

Barrow was playing at Virginia, but was giving a lacrosse clinic at his former high school, Baldwin (N.Y.). He wore a Virginia jacket and appeared to be 7 feet tall.

At the time he was also one of the best and fastest midfielders in the country, and African-American.

“I was like 9 or 10 years old,” said Jones, a Baldwin native and junior at Hopkins. “He was a giant to me, the first guy to introduce me to lacrosse. There were other sports heroes at the time like Tom Brady and Ray Lewis. But this was a guy who went to the same movie theater as me; he played on the same fields as me. And he looked like me.”

Jones cherishes that moment with Barrow and still admires him even though Barrow died after reportedly committing suicide in November 2008, several months after he had played his final college game for the Cavaliers.

Barrow still has a special place in Virginia lacrosse history, and various college lacrosse teams honor his memory by participating in an annual charity flag football tournament in Charlottesville, Va., during the fall.

“It is the short-stick defensive middies where we find consistently electrifying examples of creative athleticism,” said Dom Starsia, Barrow’s former coach at Virginia. “Will made regular contributions to our weekly highlight reels. He could cover, pick it up, clear it in an instance and finish offensively.

“He remains a memorable figure in the Virginia lacrosse program and I still think of him often.”

Not many people think of Barrow more than Jones does. On the front of his game-day T-shirt is a picture of Jones hugging his aunt, Tia Cisuentes, who died from cancer two days after he graduated from high school.

On the back is an action photo of Barrow wearing his No. 23 Virginia jersey. Above the picture is this caption: Forever Live Two Three.

So when No. 9 Johns Hopkins visits No. 10 Virginia on Saturday, it will be an emotional afternoon for Jones. It will be the first time he’ll actually get playing time on the same field where Barrow played.

“I was 11 years old when that happened. I was crushed,” Jones said of Barrow’s death. “I was just starting to pick up the stick and get into the game, and all of a sudden he is gone.

“Yes, it’s going to be special and emotional when I step out on that field. Will Barrow was fast, physical and able to do anything. He had to be a special person, which is why they keep honoring him every year.”

It’s understandable why Jones is so enamored of Barrow. The number of African-Americans participating in lacrosse has been growing, but it’s still a slow process. When Jones was growing up, there were some great black offensive players such as Johns Hopkins’ Kyle Harrison and Virginia’s John Christmas. Barrow was a grinder.

Jones is like Barrow. He is listed at 5 feet 7 and 175 pounds, but swears he is 2 inches taller even though that’s still considered too small for his position.

Opposing offenses like to attack short-stick defensive midfielders because that’s the nature of the game, but they also like to go after Jones because of his size.

Jones likes the challenge. Bring it on.

“He takes things very personally,” Johns Hopkins coach Dave Pietramala said. “This serves as motivation for him, which I believe he uses in a positive fashion. While a bit undersized for his position, Danny makes up for that in many ways. He is a stickler for preparation, studies film, takes pride in knowing the game, has very good speed and quickness, and plays with a ton of heart.”

Virginia will be a challenge. The Cavaliers are averaging 12.78 goals per game and two of the team’s top scorers are midfielders Dox Aitken (19 goals, seven assists) and Matt Moore (10 goals, six assists).

But remember, this is more than just another game for Jones. He stays in constant contact with Barrow’s father, George, when he needs advice or simply someone to talk through problems. Jones extended an invitation to George Barrow to attend Saturday’s game, but said Barrow’s father thought it would be too emotional.

Jones wears Barrow’s old jersey number and has No. 23 tattooed on his collarbone.

“When I first got here, there was this big, Italian guy [Pietramala] staring down at me, and it was intimidating,” said Jones, a former football standout at St. Anthony’s High. “I was always faster, more athletic, but I had to learn the system and it took me a year to get comfortable with him and the style.

“My freshman year, my teammates asked me why I wore the T-shirt and I told them it was for motivation. Coach Pietramala says you need to find out the why and what you play for. I know what it is. With Will Barrow, this is how it all got started. This is why it started.”

mike.preston@baltsun.com

twitter.com/MikePrestonSun

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