The speculation, debate and conversations about Ohio State never end, and Lettermen Row is always ready to dive into the discussions. All week long, senior writer Austin Ward will field topics about the Buckeyes submitted by readers and break down anything that’s on the minds of the Best Damn Fans in the Land. Have a question that needs to be tackled, like the one today about Ohio State and the unique personality of Cardale Jones? Send it in right here — and check back daily for the answers.
Nobody knew for sure what was going to happen when Ohio State was forced to turn to its third-string quarterback heading into the postseason in 2014.
But early in the week during a scheduled media availability ahead of the Big Ten title game, there was a big, strong guy firing footballs by himself at a tackling dummy in the Woody Hayes Athletic Center. There was a curtain hanging in the facility that shielded Cardale Jones from the cameras and the microphones, so he wasn’t doing it for the attention — and honestly I’m not sure how many people actually knew that Jones was in there getting extra work.
Jones was going to be surrounded by a ton of talent on the field, there really had never been much doubt about his physical tools and those that knew him were well aware of his immense potential, so it didn’t seem that crazy to believe Ohio State could win with him leading the attack. But for a guy who was most famous at that point for a tweet and a suspension as a freshman, that glimpse of how seriously he was taking his preparations for a once-in-a-lifetime moment struck a cord.
I never doubted Jones from then on with the Buckeyes, including in the buildup to the fairytale upset of Alabama in the Sugar Bowl. And following his remarkable rise, watching him handle adversity and getting to know him both on and off the field made Jones perhaps my favorite person to cover since I’ve been on the Ohio State beat.
Jones isn’t the best overall quarterback at Ohio State over the last decade, of course. The Buckeyes have had two Heisman Trophy finalists in Justin Fields and Dwayne Haskins. J.T. Barrett shattered school and Big Ten records. Braxton Miller was one of the most electrifying athletes at his peak that I’ve ever seen. But Jones does have that national-title ring, an undefeated record as a starter on his resumé and a bazooka for a right arm — though that isn’t really what made him so memorable for me.
Lost in all of the attention on “playing school” or his scrutinized decision to return to Ohio State for one more season after winning the College Football Playoff is what really makes Jones tick. At one point, Jones finally broke down and provided some insight on what prompted the tweet, and it plays alongside his choice to stick around with the Buckeyes in order to get his degree.
“I remember I was in class, and I think I got, like, a B on a [sociology] exam,” Jones said. “It was just something so stupid; of course I didn’t feel that way about academics, and I don’t. Nobody in this program feels that way, we actually take that stuff very serious around here.
“It was just a dumbass thing to do. I definitely didn’t think that would happen. It was just a stupid thing to do at that time. It was something where I just got pissed because I studied my ass off.”
The lack of filter in that response is just as meaningful as the reasoning, because it’s pure Cardale Jones. Ohio State has had plenty of entertaining personalities and characters over the years, and Tyvis Powell, Billy Price, Taylor Decker, Parris Campbell and many more all helped show that the roster was loaded with more than just athletes.
But stars had to align for Jones to really prove what he was made of, and he never let the instantaneous fame change him. The following summer, I followed him around in his native Cleveland when he was invited to throw out a first pitch at an Indians game, and the smile never left his face. It was almost as if he couldn’t believe it was real, while at the same time never hesitating to talk trash to a couple professional athletes when warming up his arm in the bullpen.
Even the way his Ohio State career played out over the final season added to the appreciation of him. Obviously dealing with a quarterback controversy or heading to the bench wasn’t what he envisioned. But after all of that, he still remains incredibly close with Barrett, loyal to his alma mater and still a fixture around Columbus when he’s not throwing a football professionally.
Covering his journey was one of the highlights of my career around Ohio State. Whatever he does next, Cardale Jones will always have my attention.
Miss any previous editions of Question of the Day? Catch up right here.