Whirlwind: 72 ‘hectic, nerve-racking’ hours for Ohio State QB Cardale Jones

CLEVELAND — Ohio State’s celebration of its Monday night national championship game win turned into Tuesday morning before the Buckeyes players could even wash off the sweat and confetti from themselves in the locker room at AT&T Stadium.

That was before the 30-minute bus ride from Arlington back to the Hilton Anatole in Dallas, where the lobby was filled with Buckeyes fans and family members and the national champions themselves, who for the first time since arriving in Dallas on Jan. 9 didn’t have a curfew.

So, our reporting stops with last call and picks up again Tuesday morning with an exhausted Cardale Jones having breakfast with Ohio State coach Urban Meyer before the two joined Jones’ teammate/roommate Tyvis Powell for a 10 a.m. press conference across the street at the Renaissance Hotel, the final formal activity of Championship Game Weekend.

Right away in that press conference, Jones was asked about riding the wave of three solid performances and three trophy wins to the NFL Draft. Right away, Meyer was asked about Jones and the NFL Draft.

Jones said he didn’t believe he was ready for the NFL, but that he wasn’t closing the door on anything. Meyer talked of the fast rise and total transformation Jones had made and admitted he got a kick just out of hearing "Cardale Jones" and "NFL" in the same sentence.

"He could play in the NFL," Meyer said. "He certainly has the talent. Is he ready right now? That’s a chat I guess we’ll go have at some point, probably not right here in front of everybody."

A little after noon, the Ohio State charter was loaded at Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport. Jones had some sleeping to do. He had a lot of thinking to do, too.

Ohio State’s flight landed back in Columbus around 4 p.m. Jones knew he had more thinking to do, but at the time he didn’t know he was 48 hours from standing before a dozen TV cameras, a packed gymnasium and a national TV audience at his high school, Ginn Academy, two hours north in Cleveland.

That school’s founder and namesake, Ted Ginn Sr., coached Jones at Glenville High School — Ginn Academy students play there — and has been his public and private mentor. Ginn’s Glenville teams have been sending talent to Ohio State and the NFL for almost 15 years now, and by the time Jones returned to Ohio, Ginn had started reaching out to NFL contacts to try to get a gauge on what NFL decision-makers thought of Jones.

Agents called Ginn, offering their services. And who could blame them? They’d seen Jones shake off would-be tacklers and throw the ball 50 yards downfield with ease. They’d seen a guy playing basically on instincts win his first three starts and had read every Meyer quote about how far Jones had come as a person.

The clock was ticking. A Thursday deadline loomed.

Jones has since mentioned multiple times that he felt pressed by the NFL’s early-entry deadline, that he didn’t have enough time to fully weigh both sides. That deadline is on Jan. 15 for NFL teams to have enough time to research underclassmen who enter and for college programs to fill scholarships and roster spots. Most college programs are done with their seasons on Jan. 1, not Jan. 12. And most early-entry candidates spend the fall producing and garnering attention from the NFL, not watching from the sideline.

This story and situation were unique. And this deadline was coming fast.

Michelle Nash, Jones’ surrogate mother, flew back to Cleveland Tuesday morning with Jones’ girlfriend and one of his brothers. The trip to Dallas had been exhilarating and exhausting, and Nash knew more sleepless nights were ahead. Thursday, she called the last 72 hours "hectic, nerve-racking and scary."

Jones decided to come back to Cleveland to consult with Ginn, Nash and the rest of his "inner circle," people he’s declined to name throughout his rise. He also had a sick family member to visit; Cleveland.com reported that his uncle, the brother of his mother, Flo Jones, has been battling liver cancer, and that Jones visited him at a hospice center Wednesday night.

Ginn and Meyer continued to reach out to their NFL contacts to gather feedback. Ginn’s phone kept buzzing with calls and texts from people wondering if there was an answer. Thursday morning, Meyer came to Cleveland with new offensive coordinator Ed Warriner and newly hired co-offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Tim Beck to meet with Jones and Ginn.

This was the talk both sides knew they needed to have.

"I think it was a good meeting because I think when you’re a coach sometimes you get caught up in the hype, caught up in all the winning and all that (goes on week to week)," Ginn said. "It was an opportunity for us to really talk, for him to know what he really has in Cardale.

"Urban was backing him in whatever decision he wanted to make."

Meyer and his coaches then moved on to other recruiting appointments. Jones and Ginn and Nash talked, and late Thursday morning Ginn used media contacts to spread the word that there would be a formal announcement.

In the hour or so after Jones tweeted that he’d be making a "life-changing decision at 3 p.m.," he gained about 10,000 Twitter followers. He had around 80,000 Twitter followers at the beginning of the week and had 123,000 on Friday morning.

Jones later corrected the time of the announcement to 4 p.m. with a new tweet. At 4:12 p.m., Jones began walking from a back office toward the gymnasium with police officers at his side and his mother and brothers behind him. On the stage, Ginn played Drake’s "Started From The Bottom" over the speakers.

ZAC JACKSON ON JONES DECISION

Jones took the microphone, said he wondered why people had been making such a big deal of his announcement and said his decision was "simple." He was coming back to Ohio State because he valued his degree and that "being a first-round pick is nothing without my education."

Jones then fielded questions from reporters for about 10 minutes.

"We’ve been up around the clock but I think (staying) was in his mind all the time," Ginn said. "I think he kind of leaned one way, then (later) leaned the next way. But the education, in the end, outweighed everything else."

Ohio State released no formal statement but Meyer told Sports Illustrated he left the decision up to Jones and that his choosing to return is "great news. It’s better than good news. It’s great news. I keep saying it’s a case study of the human spirit and maturity."

Nash said that Jones weighed both sides in their talks through the week but "I never sensed any doubt. He’s very calm about everything. What he chose to do is what he wanted to do, not what he was coerced to do or pressured to do or chose to do after someone second-guessed him. I’m happy for Cardale because this was his call."

Still in the same gray sweats and specially made gray T-shirt bearing his nickname, 12-Gauge, that he wore for the announcement, Jones went to Beachwood Mall in the Cleveland suburbs Thursday night. He posed for every picture, signed every autograph and talked with fans who both congratulated him and told him they respected his decision.

In a Cleveland radio interview, Ginn said Jones received no promises from Meyer in regards to Ohio State’s quarterback situation but said he believes Meyer left Cleveland Thursday knowing he has "a diamond" in Jones for one more season.

"The meeting was good for both sides," Ginn said. "I think Urban really understands who he has, how special Cardale is.

"He’s a few months from graduating. Next year, definitely, there won’t be a decision."