Cardale Jones’ decision to put off NFL bold, surprising – and all his own

CLEVELAND – Cardale Jones had the momentum, the spotlight and even the entrance — Drake’s "Started from the Bottom" played over the gymnasium speakers during a made-for-TV arrival — that suggested this moment would be about what’s next, and his ascension the last five weeks from backup to national-title winner to guy holding court at his old high school had everything an "I’m headed to the NFL" announcement could have, and even more if you count Drake’s rapping and national sports stations carrying it live.

There’s no TV like live TV, and with people everywhere watching Jones calmly stood up at the microphone, said a couple of thank yous and then said he’d get right to it.

He announced he’s staying in school, that the NFL and the NFL Draft and further goals can wait.

A guy who never started a college game before Dec. 7 and isn’t guaranteed to be Ohio State’s starting quarterback next year announced he’s coming back to find out what happens next in amateur* football.

Crazy, right?

About as crazy as third-stringer who’d never played a significant down before Nov. 29 leading Ohio State to a national championship.

If there is one, it’s hard to remember a story like this. With three proven quarterbacks holding remaining eligibility on Ohio State’s roster, it’s just as hard to imagine a situation like this. And yet Jones — clearly the best potential pro prospect of the three and the one left standing after a wild season — came back to his hometown and to Ginn Academy to say that he values education more than football.

"It was simple," Jones said, almost challenging anyone who thought the decision to take the money and immediately challenge NFL scouts to find a more gifted quarterback was the simple one.

Remember, it was Jones who once was suspended by Ohio State coach Urban Meyer for tweeting he didn’t "come to play school" and that "classes are pointless." Even during the 2014 season, Meyer was challenging him to grow up.

Thursday morning, Meyer was in Cleveland talking things over with Jones — things like growing up and coming back and how a guy who once had poor practice habits had blown Meyer away with his command of the team in the days leading up to the Sugar Bowl win over Alabama. Because Ohio State played until Jan. 12 and because Jones was different than most NFL early-entry prospects in that he spent the fall watching and not playing, the Jan. 15 NFL deadline came out of nowhere.

Just like Jones.

"It was tough," Jones admitted. "Two or three days was not enough time."

But he came in leaning one way and never truly leaned the other. Meyer and Ted Ginn Sr. — his high school football coach, a mentor and audio guy who cued up Drake Thursday — used their NFL contacts to gather info. Jones remains a mystery to the NFL but a 6’5, 250-pound mystery who can throw the ball 50 yards with the flick of his right wrist. Ginn said one NFL person told him Jones might be a first-round pick and that he never heard lower than third.

Those guys get paid. And Jones is a 22-year old redshirt sophomore who didn’t come from much, had to go to military school to qualify for Ohio State, has a young daughter and is about a year from his Ohio State degree.

MAGICAL MEMORIES

He made a surprising decision Thursday, but it was his.

"People can say what they want to say," Jones said, "but it’s my life and I have to live it.

"Football has always been a stepping stone to my education. Being a first-round pick means nothing to me without my education."

In the fall of 2012, Jones tweeted that classes were pointless. As recently as last spring, he was Ohio State’s No. 2 quarterback who was then beaten out for the starting job by J.T. Barrett in August after Braxton Miller’s injury. Now, he’s a national champion, a tantalizing NFL prospect and though he hasn’t been in class this week because of the national championship game and what he tweeted was "a life-changing" decision made at home, Jones said he’ll be in class Tuesday.

Started at the bottom.

For one more season, he’s staying in Columbus.