Change doesn't happen overnight.
Whether it's packing on a few extra pounds or drifting apart from your spouse, change is a slow and steady process during which you may not recognize its impact until it's entirely too late.
Such is the case for Ohio State in its recruitment of four-star quarterback commit Emory Jones, who seems poised to flip his pledge to Alabama — maybe as soon as this weekend.
The writing has been on the wall for quite some time, as four trips to Tuscaloosa since the spring are not something that should have simply been ignored. But the Buckeyes, having invested years of time and energy into Jones weren't ready to acknowledge that until today when the staff offered Kentucky four-star quarterback pledge Jarren Williams.
Recruiting has long been a fickle business, as it relies upon verbal commitments from 17- and 18-year-old kids who are almost always going to be enamored by their latest offer and coaches telling them they're the next greatest thing. It's even more volatile at the quarterback position, where it appears schools must land a commitment early in the process and then hold off all other suitors in order to get the elite prospects.
That's exactly the situation Ohio State found itself in when Jones — who had been committed since July 2016 — picked up an offer from Alabama in March. The Crimson Tide were without a quarterback in their 2018 recruiting class, and figured their proximity to Jones' hometown of Franklin, Georgia, would give them a distinct advantage over the Buckeyes.
Later that month, Jones made his first trip to Alabama's campus along with his 7-on-7 team.
“I talked to [Nick] Saban and the new offensive coordinator and quarterback coach,” Jones said. “They were just saying they want me to get back up there and get more comfortable with the coaches there. I think I could be successful there. I’ll probably look in to them a little bit.”
At the time, it wasn't a big deal. Ohio State felt comfortable in its standing with Jones — who was still on the mend from shoulder surgery that prematurely ended his junior season — despite schools like Florida and Florida State also positioning themselves to make a run at him.
Jones returned to Columbus for the Spring Game in mid-April and a one-day camp in June, which only further suggested the Buckeyes had little to worry about. But then a clandestine trip to Tuscaloosa in early July ramped up the speculation about flip to the Crimson Tide.
Jones was asked about the visit just a few weeks later at Friday Night Lights.
“I’m just taking everything from them and just listening to it,” Jones said. “I mean, if I were considering it, I'd probably go up there two more times. But I'm just listening to them and letting them talk.”
Ohio State wasn't too thrilled with Jones' stated desire to look around and make sure Columbus was the right place for him, but such is life when holding a pledge from one of the nation's top prospects. Jones held all the leverage, and the staff was resigned to hoping its long-standing relationship would see things through.
“I never really had the chance to go on visits before I committed, so I feel like I need the chance to do that,” he said.
That's when things got tricky.
Jones made a short trip to Atlanta for Alabama's season-opener against Florida State. He was then in Tuscaloosa in late September for the Crimson Tide's win over Ole Miss. Without a trip to Columbus in sight, rumors of a flip continued to run rampant.
Those close to the Ohio State program continued to preach patience, simply because the Buckeyes were certain to lose him if they offered another quarterback.
“It's real sensitive because that's that one position that you take one. If it's a receiver, you take two or three anyways," head coach Urban Meyer said. "You can't say, 'Here is a template and we do it this way.' It depends on the situation, the young man and all that.”
So Meyer and his staff did their best to convince Jones to stop going on visits and end his recruitment once and for all. It appeared to have worked when he called off a planned trip to Alabama in mid-October, only for him to return to Tuscaloosa again one week later.
Saturday's official visit to Ohio State for the highly anticipated matchup with Penn State was supposed to be the finish line for the Buckeyes. Having made it through the entire fall without Jones reopening his recruitment or flipping his pledge, it offered a chance for him to reaffirm his commitment once and for all.
But that never happened, and reports have since surfaced that Jones was texting with the Crimson Tide's coaching staff while on Ohio State's campus. The vibe around the program is not upbeat, and Thursday morning's offer to Williams only speaks to that.
If Jones returns to Alabama for this weekend's game against LSU, it's hard to envision a situation where he's still committed to the Buckeyes.
Personally, I never believed Jones' interest in Alabama was anything more than simple flirtation. After all, the Crimson Tide have been the most dominant football program in the country over the last decade and have won seven-consecutive recruiting titles. Who wouldn't at least listen if Saban and Co. came calling?
But sometimes you're too close to someone to notice the changes happening right under your nose.