To most high school kids, family is defined by mom, dad, brothers and sisters.
The term has a completely different meaning to Exvonte Jones, whose life centers around the community that comprises Portage wrestling.
"I feel like it's not just wrestling. It's like I'm with family, spending time together, getting work done," Jones said. "Everybody, varsity, JV, the coaches, the little (club) kids, they help me out with my situation. If something's bothering me, I can go to any of the coaches and talk about it. They're always there for me. It's something I've wanted as far as a family."
The Portage senior doesn't know his father. Born in Chicago Heights, Jones bounced around several places before coming to Portage in sixth grade. At 16, he moved out of his mother's home, briefly living on his own before being taken in by the parents of teammate Tom Duff. He currently lives with another teammate, Dylan Logsdon.
"I can't fathom being 18 and not having family," Portage coach Leroy Vega said. "You take it for granted. Here's a kid who's just happy to have people who care about him. When he steps in the room, all his problems are gone. He can be himself, have fun and wrestle. He doesn't have to worry about everyday life. He can just shine."
When Jones' mother moved to Hobart with his two brothers and two sisters, he stayed in Portage. They have since moved back, but he has little contact with his mother. He stays in touch with his siblings, to whom Jones, as the oldest, had been the man of the house.
"It was a difficult decision to make," he said. "I can't say I wasn't ever happy, but the situation wasn't good at all. The first thing I think of is how my brothers and sisters feel. At the same time, I've got to make a choice that will make me happy, and I made the choice to stay. I don't think I could leave Portage. I'm so used to moving around, making new friends, I wanted to actually stay with something."
An outsider in Portage six years ago, Jones now enjoys seeing someone he knows wherever he goes. The first person he met in middle school, Jason Spence, would turn out to be a teammate, though Jones didn't start wrestling until he was a sophomore.
"I didn't even know wrestling existed," he said. "I had a friend from football who always told me it was fun, and I should try it. At first, it was really hard. I had to get used to it. My sophomore year, I didn't know any rules, any moves. I sent like four guys to the trainer. But wrestling really grew on me. I really started to like it. I've improved so much."
Last year, Vega's first as Portage coach, saw Jones not only crack the varsity lineup, but win 23 matches and make it to semistate.
"The first time I took a lot at him, I thought he was a .500 wrestler, and he has dreams of wining a state title now," Vega said. "He's a very athletic kid. He's a very hard worker. He never slacks. He wants to get better. He's a leader. We're proud he wasn't one of those kids who became a statistic, being a bad kid, because of his family life."
Jones said he doesn't think much about what he'd be doing if he wasn't wrestling or didn't have so many people open their hearts and homes to him. Plain and simple, he knows he's better off.
"It makes me happy," he said. "I've met and gotten to know a lot of great people. You don't walk in and become a superstar, but if you stick to it, you can turn out great. It can also make you a great person. It teaches you discipline. Things get hard, but if you get through it, things get better. People are trying to make me a better wrestler, and I'm thankful for what they're doing. I just wish I'd started sooner."
A state berth and a state medal are on the goal list this season for Jones, who is ranked 15th at 182 pounds. Beyond high school, he'd love to get the chance to wrestle in college and pursue a degree.
"I've always said this isn't about winning and losing. It's about having a kid come back 10 years from now with his wife and kids," Vega said. "Your goal is help boys become men. 'X' has really grown up in the year-and-a-half I've known him. He works well with kids. He's very appreciative of the people who have stepped up in his life and taken on roles, and he's one who wants to give back."