So Maryland’s road game against No. 1 Ohio State will feature many familiar elements for Jones, an outside linebacker from Olney. He has experienced more college games in Ohio Stadium than any other venue. But for as much as he will remember Saturday, Jones has never stood on the opponent’s sideline at the Horseshoe. When a reporter asked whether he had been inside the visiting game-day locker room, Jones had to stop himself.
“Oh, absolute — oh, no, actually, I haven’t,” Jones said. “Being on the other side of that Ohio State team is going to be a new experience for me. But this is my last year [of college football], and I’m doing it with the team I wanted to come back and be a part of.”
After three years in Columbus, Jones transferred to his home state, joining the program Coach Michael Locksley became tasked with rebuilding. Jones had a much lower-profile role at Ohio State. The former four-star recruit contributed on special teams and in a backup capacity on the Buckeyes’ defense. But after receiving a waiver for immediate eligibility, Jones carved out a key role in Maryland’s system, joining fellow transfer Shaq Smith at outside linebacker.
Jones has 45 total tackles, third most on the team. In his lone season at Maryland, he’s on pace to double his three-year total of 29 tackles at Ohio State. Jones has proved to be the Terrapins’ most effective pass-rusher, notching six sacks, while none of his teammates have more than one.
Locksley, who knew Jones from the high school recruiting process, has commended Jones’s consistent energy. Locksley once called Jones “one of those guys that practices like his hair’s on fire,” saying that’s what he remembers about the eighth-grade version of Jones, too. Even when Maryland trailed deep into a lopsided game against No. 14 Michigan last Saturday, Locksley saw Jones chase down a player from the opposite side of the field to make a tackle.
“The leadership he’s brought to this program, I think is a direct reflection of the experiences he’s had at a place like Ohio State,” Locksley said. “It’s been great to have that here in our locker room and for our younger players to utilize him as a resource for how you approach the game, how you approach practice, how you approach school and all the areas that you need to.”
But at the same time, Jones is wading through a disappointing campaign for the first time in his college career. For Maryland (3-6, 1-5 Big Ten) a loss against Ohio State (8-0, 5-0) will officially end faint hopes of becoming bowl eligible. When Jones was at Ohio State, he and his teammates reached at least 11 victories all three years, winning the Big Ten twice and participating in the College Football Playoff once.
“There are going to be ups and downs in a season,” Jones said, adding that even though Ohio State had success, the program still didn’t always meet expectations. “You have to be patient and your time will come, just like with me fulfilling this role as a starter.”
At this point in the season, teams such as Ohio State play each weekend with conference titles and playoff berths on the line, whereas Maryland might benefit from playing with the hope to develop talent for the future.
“It’s a different experience, obviously, the position that we’re in right now,” Jones said. “But this team continues to fight, continues to work hard, and we have the talent.”
When the teams met last year in College Park, Jones remembers how aggressively Maryland played to open the game. Standout running back Anthony McFarland Jr. rushed for 231 yards in the first half after bursting through the Buckeyes’ defense with early touchdown runs of 81 and 75 yards.
Ohio State, then ranked 10th in the country, never had the lead in regulation but gradually closed the gap. In overtime, interim coach Matt Canada opted to go for the win with a two-point conversion attempt, but on the play, Maryland quarterback Tyrrell Pigrome missed an open Jeshaun Jones in the end zone. Locksley hopes his players will draw confidence from last year’s edition of the matchup, when the Terrapins nearly knocked off a far more talented Ohio State team.
“You saw a lot of fight from Maryland,” said Jones, who played special teams in that game and wasn’t on the field for the final play. “That’s the same thing I expect from this year’s team.”
This time, Jones will have a role in whether Maryland completes a long-shot upset bid. Jones has had this game marked since he transferred, but he said it’s “nothing personal.” He’s still in a group chat with some of his former teammates, including safety Jordan Fuller, wide receiver Austin Mack and running back Demario McCall.
The group message includes the members of the 2016 recruiting class, so Jones’s former roommate Dwayne Haskins, now a quarterback with the Washington Redskins, is also part of the chat. But as some players, once tied together through their 2016 commitments, have ventured away from Columbus, they still fill that message with conversations about Ohio State’s current success, even though they know one person included will become their opponent this weekend.
“A bunch of those guys talk and brag about what they’ve got going on,” Jones said. “But all I can do is focus on what I have here, which is the University of Maryland and making sure we handle our business.”