The man on the other end of the line was Cleveland Glenville head coach Ted Ginn, who Jones said knows him better than anyone except his mother. Ginn would ask the sophomore quarterback, in his third year at Ohio State and fourth out of high school, how he was doing.
Considering Jones was, for the most part, used sparingly this season, it wasn’t always a fun topic of discussion.
“It may be a game where I didn’t play or didn’t play enough or something like that and he’ll call me and ask how I’m feeling and I’m like, ‘I’m all right,’ but you know, you just brush him off because you don’t want to talk about it,” Jones said. “A lot of our conversations are just about staying patient and understanding the situation.”
Jones said he never thought about leaving Ohio State, even as he sunk to third on the depth chart in August after battling redshirt freshman J.T. Barrett for the backup role in the spring. He attempted 14 passes over the first 11 games of the season. Still, his patience was rewarded when he was handed the keys to the offense against Michigan, albeit through devastating circumstances.
There were questions about his ability to lead the Buckeyes to a conference championship, and the betting line reflected that uncertainly. But Ginn knew better, saying that Jones had a healthy grasp of what was at stake and what playing that position entailed from a leadership standpoint.
“He understands what his role is,” Ginn told BuckeyeSports.com. “He understands what it means to be the starting quarterback at Ohio State and what it means to the coaching staff and the state of Ohio and the community he came from. He expects to do well in that role because that’s the way he’s been taught all his life.”
On the outside, it didn’t always look that way.
Prior to his Big Ten Championship performance, Jones was most well known to those outside of Columbus for a tweet complaining about academics. His teammates described his demeanor as goofy, with an affinity for pranks. Ginn said that Jones’ outside demeanor was at times a detriment because it didn’t convey how he really feels. His mentor described him as a professional worker who would do anything to avoid embarrassment.
“His emotions might not show that because he’s always smiling, but that’s the way he is,” Ginn said.
The work ethic was there at times, but it took Barrett’s injury to truly shake him from going through the motions. There’s a difference between doing what you have to do and doing what you need to do, and his transition into a starter helped morph him into a guy who went from spending free time at his apartment to burying himself in film study at the Woody Hayes Athletic Center.
“I would say that Cardale had this type of stuff inside of him, but with this situation and the way that it played out, it brought it out of him,” said sophomore safety Tyvis Powell, who rooms with Jones. “He has put what’s important first and before he didn’t do that. School and playing football, I don’t know if that was a top priority to him, I think it was just about him enjoying his life at the time and enjoying the college. Now that he’s done it, he’s gone out there and showcased his abilities his focus and what’s important in his life has completely switched around.”
That transition has been obvious to his teammates, even those on the other side of the ball. Linebacker Curtis Grant, a senior captain, said Jones’ work ethic has been unmistakable.
“I see the effort. I see what he’s trying to do,” Grant said. “The guys are buying into him. They respect him a lot. Who wouldn’t respect a guy who comes in and steps into a situation and gets thrown into a game after someone breaks their ankle? And next week you win a championship. It’s kind of crazy. He’s still in there watching film and doing all the things he’s been doing. I can’t do anything but respect him.”
Wisconsin presented a strong challenge, but the degree of difficulty will jump up a notch when Jones lines up against a defense that does a better job of confusing and harassing quarterbacks than just about any other unit in the country.
It’s a moment that Ginn believes Jones was born to experience, saying that his former quarterback was always calmest when the pressure, especially when his preparation increases. Jones has put in the work to lead the offense, and those who know him believe he’ll be fine in a game that will almost certainly be less comfortable than his first start.
However it ends up, he and Ginn will have plenty to talk about afterwards.