DALLAS -- The Cardale Jones you see today showed up on Nov. 7, 2014, and just in time.
Around 8 a.m. on that Friday in Cleveland, Chloe Michelle Jones entered his life. For her father, nothing has been the same since.
“I understand now what’s my ultimate goal,” Jones said.
The birth of Chloe came three weeks before Jones was thrust into action as the unlikely starting quarterback at Ohio State. In those weeks, his coaches witnessed transformative change in a quarterback and a young man with a new outlook.
“We’ve had a lot of conversations about the enormity of responsibility that comes from being a father,” Ohio State offensive coordinator Tom Herman said. “I think it’s really caused him to mature and grow up and have a different perspective on things.”
Jones always had the talent, Ohio State coach Urban Meyer says, but something happened in the past couple of months, starting with the birth of his baby girl.
“Everybody in life has a chance to push restart,” Meyer said. “Not many people have a grand stage like Cardale has, and he pushed restart and he hit the right button. And that’s called selfless approach and a serious approach to how he handles his business, on and off the field.
“That’s one of the great stories in college football, one of the great stories I’ve witnessed.”
The reputation for being a goofball might stick, but Jones recognized he had to change his act. Girlfriend Jeaney Durand, an Ohio State nursing student, needed his best. Soon enough, his teammates would too.
On the eve of the College Football Playoff National Championship presented by AT&T and the biggest game of his life, it’s clear Jones would not call a win over Oregon or his newfound fame the highlights of his sophomore year. It’s Chloe. It will always be Chloe.
Managing all the responsibilities -- as starter and father -- that entered his life in November can get tricky. Meyer can’t help but admire his quarterback's confidence during these months.
“It’s a lot, but a lot that I was prepared for,” Jones said. “A lot that our coaches and my family help me prepare for. I’m grateful for the opportunity to be in the situation I’m in.”
Being apart from his girls during this playoff run has been a challenge. He is reminded every time he pulls out his phone and sees the background photo of his baby. He checks in with FaceTime chats when he can.
“Every time I see her,” Jones said with a wide grin, “she’s a little bigger.”
Buckeyes teammates don’t see any stress, though. They sense that, in a distinct way, Chloe has done wonders for providing a calming influence in her father’s life.
“He cares about her more than anything in the world,” Ohio State freshman quarterback Stephen Collier said. “Every time he talks about her, his eyes light up.”
The maturation her birth spurred wasn’t put to the test until Nov. 29. The timing, while miserable for Ohio State in losing J.T. Barrett, couldn’t have been much better in another sense. To handle this job, these opponents and all this hype, Jones needed a level head and renewed focus.
“He’s definitely matured a lot,” running back Ezekiel Elliott said, “and really quickly.”
On Monday night, Jones will put his growth on display for the world once more. Durand and his mother will be inside AT&T Stadium. Chloe will be back at home with family.
In time, she’ll figure out that Daddy plays football. By then, he hopes, he will be able to support his new family by playing the game he appreciates much differently now. Even with a national title in his sights, that’s the ultimate goal.