COLUMBUS, Ohio -- The feeling that comes with taking the first snap is becoming more familiar, and Cardale Jones certainly knows what it’s like to play in Ohio Stadium.
The Ohio State quarterback just hasn’t had the chance to put those two things together yet -- at least not for the Buckeyes.
In yet another quirk of the redshirt junior’s rapid rise to prominence, Jones has won a conference championship, a pair of playoff games and picked up a hard-fought victory on the road to open the season on Monday. But he still hasn’t started a home game in the Horseshoe for Ohio State, though just more than five years ago Jones did acquire his first taste of what it’s like by leading Cleveland Glenville to a win in a hyped interstate showdown against Florida’s Dwyer.
“Man, that was a long time ago,” Glenville coach Ted Ginn Sr. said. “Pretty much, I just remember Cardale was game-ready. You know, I mean, he was big time then. With Cardale, he really spoils you as a high school coach for him to be so talented, so early.
“You are always searching, trying to find another guy like that. I’ve had some good ones along the way, but he’s special.”
Jones has famously needed some time to recapture that magic with the Buckeyes. But his last four starts have certainly provided the same kind of results he helped provide half a decade ago with the Tarblooders the first time he started in one of the nation’s most famous stadiums.
That outcome wasn’t without some controversy thanks to a disputed goal-line stand in the closing seconds, but the record books reflect a victory for Glenville, one that was sparked by a clutch, go-ahead drive by Jones in the fourth quarter. And while his 10-for-19, 164-yard passing performance with a touchdown and an interception appears rather modest, Jones delivered with the outcome in the balance by marching the Tarblooders 96 yards in nine plays for what would be the game-winning score.
And in a game loaded with elite talent, with most of the pregame attention focusing on touted tight end Nick O’Leary and his ties to Columbus thanks to grandfather Jack Nicklaus, Jones accomplished exactly what he set out to do in the buildup to the meeting between two nationally ranked programs.
“That was pretty sweet,” Jones said. “I just felt like a team from Florida coming up here, no matter which player has a famous grandfather, shouldn’t be getting more hype than a hometown team playing in Ohio Stadium.
“That was our second week in a row with a game-winning drive in the fourth quarter to get a win, too, but it was sweet to do it in the stadium where I wanted to do it in the future.”
The chance to do it for the Buckeyes may have taken longer than he anticipated, though Jones has already accomplished more in a handful of games than most quarterbacks accomplish in their entire careers.
But beginning with the unique lack of home starts at this point, Jones still has plenty of work that can be done to expand his résumé. And even after leading the Buckeyes to another high-scoring win over one of the toughest defenses in the nation on Monday, there is even more potential motivation available for him to prove skeptics wrong as the conversation about who should start for the program still hasn’t died down -- which based on his track record, might not be a surprise to Jones.
“That’s Cardale, buddy,” Ginn said. “Cardale always finds some type of way to know everything about all these kids, and he always has been competitive and wanted to be the best. I probably remember him just wanting to beat them, because that was against the Nicklaus kid, and they hyped that up so much and Cardale finds his way of getting into the hype.
“He was kind of always trying to prove a point, and he wanted people to know that where we come from is better than anywhere else.”
That fierce pride about his hometown and Ohio State still hasn’t gone anywhere, which could make Saturday a memorable afternoon for him regardless of the apparent drop-off in both competition and stakes from what he’s faced previously as the starter.
Jones is still officially bracketed with J.T. Barrett on Ohio State’s latest depth chart ahead of the matchup with Hawaii. But he retained the job coming out of training camp after a heated head-to-head battle, and for the first time in an Ohio State uniform, the first snap in the Horseshoe should belong to him.
“It was cool to play here in high school, and the win was pretty sweet,” Jones said. “I mean, there weren’t that many people, so it’s completely different. It was just cool to play in a big-ass stadium.
“I don’t know what it would be like, but I think it will be a little more special than any other game I’ve started because it’s at home. First time starting in the Shoe would be pretty sweet.”
Which, technically, would make it exactly as memorable as the real first time.