Ohio State quarterback Cardale Jones walks off the field after the 2015 National Championship Game at AT&T Stadium.
(Photo: Matthew Emmons, USA TODAY Sports)
So Cardale Jones wants to “play school” after all.
The Ohio State quarterback/cult hero surprised the college football world by leading the Buckeyes to a Big Ten title, Sugar Bowl victory and the inaugural College Football Playoff National Championship in the first three starts of his college career.
And, shockingly, maybe not the last.
Jones authored yet another improbable post-season headline with Thursday’s announcement in his hometown of Cleveland that he will return to Ohio State and forgo the NFL draft.
With three years of college under the belt lashed around his imposing 6-5, 250-pound frame, Jones was eligible to leave early for the NFL draft. To those of us who couldn’t see past his infamous 2012 tweet about how he was at Ohio State to play football, not (attend) school, bolting for a paycheck seemed like a foregone conclusion.
But, whether lowering his shoulder on a quarterback keeper, or putting his nose to the grindstone, Jones is displaying a new level of maturity.
“My education is going to take me 10 times farther than my athletic ability,” Jones said at his press conference. “It boiled down to going back to school before making the commitment to being a full-time athlete.”
Going the distance in the longest college season on record helped Ohio State in this case. Jones had less than three days after winning a national championship to decide “stay or go” before Thursday’s deadline.
It was pressure, he admits, he never felt in the pocket during OSU’s post-season run.
As questions were being fielded from the media, a teacher spoke up and applauded Jones for his decision to follow “the path of education.” You can bet a jam-packed Ohio Stadium would have risen to its feet to second that sentiment, though the fans’ ovation, befitting the venue, would have been more football-driven.
There was no wrong decision here. But you can certainly make the case that turning pro might have made the most sense.
Jones spent a year after high school at a military academy to improve his grades and receive the structure that had been missing from his life. At his age, 22, most college students are ready to embark on the next stage of their life. As the new father of 2-month-old Chloe, he’s already reached that stage and needs to think about a family to support.
Then, too, how do you improve on legendary status? You don’t. He’s already won everything there is to win at the college level, save for the Heisman Trophy. And beating the reigning Heisman winner — Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota — to seize the national championship is a darn nice consolation prize.
Jones’ stock with NFL scouts isn’t going to rise any higher by beating up on Maryland and Rutgers. His arm has already thrown bullets through defensive secondaries and perceptions about third-string quarterbacks. It can’t possibly get any stronger.
Longevity is not a perk of the typical NFL career. The window of opportunity is very small. You can always go back to school and get your degree.
Yes, with his small body of work he would be a project in any NFL camp. But with his size, arm strength and the poise he showed in the pocket against Big Ten West champ Wisconsin, No. 1-ranked Alabama and No. 2-ranked Oregon, he’s less of a project than former Ohio State quarterback Terrelle Pryor. And Pryor doesn’t seem to have a problem getting chance after chance in the pros.
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SOURCE: USA Today