Ohio State sophomore quarterback Cardale Jones, the sensation who began the season as a third-stringer and led the Buckeyes to a national title in three dazzling starts, announced he will return to Ohio State for his junior season Thursday afternoon at a press conference at his Cleveland high school.
Jones tweeted he will make a “life changing” decision at 4 p.m. Thursday, the deadline set by the NFL for underclassmen to enter the draft. But when the moment arrived, Jones kept his life on its previous path.
“My decision was simple,” Jones said. “One of the most important things for me to do is graduate.”
Jones ascended from unknown backup to Ohio folk legend in the span of 38 days – the duration between the Big Ten Championship and the national title game, during which Jones led Ohio State to decisive victories over No. 13 Wisconsin, No. 1 Alabama and No. 2 Oregon in the only three starts of his career. Despite scant experience, his blend of enormous potential enticed many NFL evaluators.
But Thursday Jones called going to the NFL after only three starts “out of the question.” When he arrived at Ohio State, Jones tweeted that “we ain’t come to play school” and called classes “pointless,” for which the team suspended him. Thursday, Jones said he wanted to study financial planning as a potential career path after football.
“Being a first-round draft pick means nothing to me without my education,” Jones said.
Jones, 22, spent three seasons at Ohio State, including a redshirt year, after attending Fork Union Military Academy in Virginia. He entered late summer third on the Buckeyes’ depth chart, but a season-ending shoulder injury to incumbent starter Braxton Miller moved him up to the second string. J.T. Barrett inherited the starting job from Miller and became a Heisman Trophy contender, but Barrett’s knee injury in the fourth quarter of the regular season’s final game thrust Jones into the starting role.
In Jones’s first game, he threw three touchdowns passes of at least 39 yards as Ohio State throttled Wisconsin, 59-0, in a victory that vaulted the Buckeyes into the inaugural College Football Playoff. In his three starts, Jones completed 46 of 75 passes for 742 yards and bulldozed for another 90 yards rushing. At 6-foot-5, 250 pounds, Jones displayed a cannon arm, nimble feet and punishing running ability.
By returning to Ohio State, Jones will face both the risk of injury and a competition for playing time. Miller and Barrett both have eligibility remaining, which will force Jones to reclaim his position.
“I’m not promised anything,” Jones said. While another year may boost Jones’s stock, it may never be higher than right now.
At the start of December, Jones had never played a meaningful snap of college football, and his name would not have registered outside Ohio. In little over a month, he won a conference, toppled the No. 1 team in the country and lifted a national championship trophy. The experience gave him the chance to move on to something bigger, but he chose to stay.