Cardale Jones authored a storybook tale that was too hokey for Hollywood, if you can imagine that. He came off the bench to win three games as Ohio State’s third-string quarterback, culminating with the national championship over Oregon on Monday night.
Because of his size, arm strength and apparent acumen to play the position, he was considered a high NFL Draft prospect.
After just three games.
To complete this unfathomable story, all Jones had to do was declare himself eligible for the draft.
But he didn’t.
And his reason why is the best part of the story.
“A first-round draft pick means nothing to me without my education,” he said with believable conviction.
Who does that? How many young men select the unique experience and vast learning that comes with college life over money? Not many.
Not Heisman Trophy winners Jameis Winston of Florida State or Marcus Mariota of Oregon, two quarterbacks who likely would have been selected after Jones, which is remarkable in itself. Some draft experts had Jones, 6-foot-4, 250 pounds, going in the second round, an astonishing projection for someone who had not been heard of a month ago.
Mariota and Winston are going for the same reason: They believe they are ready and are prepared to get their careers started. Cannot begrudge them that.
Jones is bypassing on wearing an NFL uniform next season and collecting an NFL paycheck because he knows he’s not ready—not ready for the league, despite his potential, and not ready to end his college career without a college degree. Too many with less talent have pushed aside their education for the perceived glory of the NFL or other sports.
There are many who believe Jones blew the decision, that his stock might never get as high as it is right now, that he might get exposed next season (or might not even play), that he could suffer a serious injury.
And they may be right. But he has to be commended for making the unpopular decision based on his principles and not money or the notion of stardom.
“It’s everybody’s dream and goal when they play football or any collegiate sport to make it to the next level,” Jones said, “but at my point in my career, I feel like it’s best for me to go back to school. . . This was very simple for me. The NFL, after three games, it was really out of the question for me.
“When I make that decision to play in the NFL, I want to be done with school. I want to devote all of my time and all my effort to the film room and getting better at playing the quarterback position,” he said.
“It was very simple for me.”
Urban Meyer, Ohio State coach, has not promised Jones the starting position next season, his last. He has to beat out two viable candidates. So, conceivably—through ordinary play or even injury—Jones could be right back where he was before the starter and second string QBs got injured. . . on the bench.
And he still decided to stay.
“[He is] an incredible case study of spirit and maturity level that he’s come to,” Meyer said. “You know, to think that he could bring us to a national championship, if you would have told me that two years ago, I would’ve disagreed with you.”
For those who disagree with Jones’ choice, he summed it up nicely: “I can’t really say what I want to. But it’s my life and I have to live it.”
Mentor and high school coach Ted Ginn said: ”I’m so proud. He’s a great kid, very intelligent, smart. I think the biggest thing to him was to be able to say to his baby, ‘I went back,’ and to set an example for all kids.”
And that’s a great reason to stay.