CLEVELAND — At the Ginn Academy Thursday afternoon, Cardale Jones sauntered into a stuffy gymnasium as the rapper Drake’s “Started From the Bottom” boomed from a pair of loudspeakers propped on a stage.
As the lyrics, “Started from the bottom / now we're here” echoed off the rafters, they appeared like they might be symbolic of a moment that drew dozens of reporters, cameras, satellite trucks, students, and community members to Jones' alma mater in East Cleveland.
This, after all, was where Jones started.
And so what better place to hold what he called on Twitter a, "Life changing decision at 4pm" earlier that morning.
Instead Jones, a redshirt sophomore, who has gone from a third-string misfit to a national championship-winning quarterback at Ohio State, said he's coming back to school after swirling speculation that he might jump to the NFL amidst a crowded quarterback room back in Columbus.
"My decision was very simple: I’d been talking it over with my family and my friends, my coaching staff," he said. "I’m going to return next year for school."
He smiled and added: "Thank all you guys for coming out. I mean, I don’t know why you guys made such a big deal."
There were claps and whistles, but perhaps most of all, questions.
"My decision was very simple: I’d been talking it over with my family and my friends, my coaching staff. I’m going to return next year for school."
Why is Jones coming back to the Buckeyes, where it's uncertain he'll even play, let alone start, next season?
"It’s everybody dream and goal when they play football or any collegiate to make it to the next level, but in my point in my career, I feel like it’s best for me to go back to school and one of the most-important things for me to do is to graduate," he said.
"So when I make that decision to play in the NFL, I want to be done with school. I want to devote all my time and all my effort to the film room and getting better at playing the quarterback position."
After all, Jones has played only three games at the collegiate level. But despite such inexperience, there was a notion that Jones, a 6-foot-5, 250-pound prospect with a howitzer for a throwing arm, had attracted the interest of several NFL organizations.
Jones said he was "flattered" by the attention, but "the NFL, after three games, is really out of the question for me."
In those three games, Jones helped guide Ohio State to a Big Ten Championship, a Sugar Bowl win against No. 1 Alabama and, finally, a national title Monday night. He passed for 742 yards and five touchdowns in that span.
As he sat in the locker room after defeating the Ducks, 42-20, at AT&T Stadium in Dallas, Jones said he was undecided about what the future might hold. On Tuesday morning, he said he wasn't ready to be a professional football player.
"When the opportunity presents itself to me, of course, I want to play in the NFL," he said. "But I want the time to be right."
Jone said he informed Meyer of his decision Thursday morning.
"He was always about taking an opportunity when an opportunity presents itself, but makings sure that the opportunity comes at the right time — not after three games," Jones said.
"He was a little shocked but he understood. He always preaches to us that our education is the most important and we know that with all three of us back next year, it’s going to bring out the best in us."
Which means for Jones, who said he'll resume classes next Tuesday, it's a battle to remain Ohio State's starting quarterback, a job that fell into his lap after Braxton Miller and J.T. Barrett were sidelined with season-ending injuries.
Meyer has yet to name a starter for next season.
"He didn’t make me any promises," Jones said.
But Jones appeared confident about his chances.
"Hopefully, I am the starter," he said, "but I mean, if I’m not, I’ll have to wait until my opportunity to do present itself again."