King Cardale Summed Up Buckeye Resolve

Getting to the very top isn't easy and requires equal parts talent and verve, but Cardale Jones showed he possesses both over a charmed three-game span that led the Buckeyes to the pinnacle of the college football world.

Cardale Jones arrived in the dressing room underneath AT&T Stadium and stood on the bench in front of his locker.

At that moment, at 6-5 and towering above the assembled media who wanted to ask more questions of the Ohio State quarterback as the open locker room period ticked to a close, he looked every bit like King Cardale.

And at that moment, he was king of the college football world. In a span of just over a month, Jones went from an obscure backup quarterback to a national champion, lording over Wisconsin, Alabama and Oregon in clinical succession.

Could he believe where he was, on this fairy tale run that was improbable two months ago and had to seem nearly impossible when he was growing up on the rough-and-tumble streets of Cleveland or living at a military school in the hinterlands of Virginia?

“No, no I can’t,” he said, shaking his head and smiling. “Definitely not.”

So when asked how the moment felt as he climbed down from his perch and sat to be surrounded by cameras and recorders, Jones gave a characteristic answer.

"Unfreakingreal," he said. "It's amazing that we were able to win this for our seniors. Prior to this year, this unbelievable year, our seniors haven't won anything."

It was characteristic in the way he deflected praise from himself – something he’s done consistently since becoming the Buckeyes’ starter and accounting for six touchdowns in three postseason wins – and in the way he still met the question head on.

While he spent the wins vs. the Badgers, Crimson Tide and Ducks evading defenders – if he wasn’t leaping over them or running them over, he was throwing it over the top of defenses who still had trouble grasping the power of the 12-gauge cannon attached to his right shoulder – he was often blunt and honest in his question-and-answer sessions.

Reduced by so many over the past two years to one tweet posted in a moment of frustration, he has instead spent the last few weeks entertaining reporters by honestly discussing subjects as simple as plans to learn how to make taco salad with roommate Tyvis Powell – “I’m going to buy a fire extinguisher to make sure we don’t burn the house down,” he said – and as complex as how close his upbringing came to making him a statistic.

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Jones has never lacked for confidence or bravado, as he never seemed to doubt his skills in discussions with reporters, but he did doubt whether he would ever get the chance to show them on such a stage. When the moment came, he wasn’t nervous, saying playing with his teammates leaves him calm, cool, collected and comfortable.

“I thought it was possible (I could get here), but dating back to the beginning of the season with a healthy Braxton, I thought it was possible but I didn’t think I’d be in this position,” he said. “Then when J.T. stepped up I thought it was possible but once again, I didn’t think I’d be in this position. Then when J.T. went down I had that chance to show and prove to my teammates what we can do.

“I always thought it was possible, but I’m not going to say I always figured I’d be in this position, no.”

Jones spent much of the postseason using an uncanny ability to lead at the right time – whether it be a critical drive or an important third down – to put the Buckeyes where they needed to be. Against Wisconsin, that was right from the start, as the Buckeyes jumped on the Badgers thanks in part to Jones’ big right arm on the way to the 59-0 blowout win. Against Alabama, down 21-6 in the rollicking Superdome, Jones led a touchdown drive keyed by two on-the-money throws over the middle to stem the Tide and kick-start a powerful comeback.

Against Oregon, he directed TD drives when the Buckeyes needed them most, such as a 97-yard TD possession that tied the score at 7, which he sparked with a 26-yard pass to Corey Smith on third-and-8 from the 5 and a 26-yard pass a play later to Jalin Marshall.

Then there was the third-and-12 that ended with a 45-yard pass to Devin Smith that led directly to OSU’s third TD. Or how about the drive following consecutive turnovers by Jones that allowed Oregon to get back to 21-20, a possession on which went 4 for 4 and also ran over Ducks nose tackle Alex Balducci to gain a critical third down.

Overall, Jones finished 16 of 23 passing for 242 yards, a touchdown and an interception while running 21 times for 38 yards. Pedestrian sounding numbers, but the timely plays overwhelmed all else.

And then there were the spectacular plays – the flick of the wrist on the run that allowed him to hit Smith on the deep ball, the fourth down when he sensed there was no room on a quarterback sneak, doubled back, raced to the edge and hurdled a defender for the first. Not to mention the multiple times Jones would not be denied a first down, running over numerous Oregon defenders to reach the line to gain.

“(I surprised myself) maybe running a bit,” he said.

You mean running over guys?

“Yeah, kind of man,” Jones said with a smile. “A little bit.”

Now Jones faces a crossroads looking ahead. He said Tuesday that he didn’t feel he was ready for the NFL, mere hours after he said it was his opinion he’d be back at Ohio State next year and that his “No. 1 priority is to graduate from The Ohio State University and walk away with something that no one can take away.”

But Jones also said, “You never know what the future holds,” and if anyone at Ohio State knows that, it’s Jones. From second stringer two weeks ago to King Cardale at the end of the campaign, Jones came to be the walking, talking, joking, flying embodiment of the championship Buckeyes.

“Cardale is a case study for overcoming adversity and how if alignment is – his personal alignment with his mentor, his high school coach and his coaching staff, if that didn't happen, he wouldn't be sitting here,” head coach Urban Meyer said after the game. “Same thing with our team. If we didn't have alignment – not one time have I ever heard an offensive player criticize a defensive player or a special teams player, and the same with the coaching staff.

“Adversity, it's how you respond to adversity, that's in your life, and our guys have been trained how to do it, but it's not that easy. You can train however you want. These guys have great heart for each other. A lot of people say that. Very few back it up. These guys backed it up.”

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