SANDUSKY, Ohio — Without any hesitation, Urban Meyer twisted his body and pointed a firm index finger stage left at the man responsible for quarterbacking his football team to Ohio State's most recent national championship.
"I'm very fortunate we had a guy like Cardale Jones. A guy like that, he could have very easily been a part of the problem. Can you imagine right now if Cardale Jones would have been complaining, bitching about everything? And not staying focused on being a backup quarterback? Can you imagine how the season would have ended?" Meyer said Friday at the Ginn Foundation fundraiser "Walking the Talk" in Sandusky, Ohio. "But he stayed focused, he kept working, he kept working and at one point it was his job. That's called being part of the solution. And then fortunately that's why we won."
Jones wasn't the sole reason Ohio State ripped through the 2014 post-season to win the first ever College Football Playoff National Championship, but he was about as an instrumental of a part as you could get. Stepping in for an injured J.T. Barrett, Jones was nearly flawless in the three biggest games of the season.
The powerful 6-foot-5, 250-pound quarterback's popularity spread like wildfire through Columbus and across the nation since Ohio State's 42-20 triumph over Oregon Jan. 12. From a mega-boost in Twitter followers, an ESPY nomination and Cleveland sporting events, Jones has been everywhere this summer.
"You never really get used to it. It's always a humbling experience to come back and help with an event like this," Jones said Friday. "Yeah, you enjoy it, but you don't let it take away from the work you have to do to prepare for next year."
Next year isn't too far away from Jones and his teammates, particularly with Barrett and Braxton Miller both still very much in the picture of a now supremely crowded Ohio State quarterback room.
"The good thing is, he's a very good person. His stuff is 'stuff.' Late for this, whatever. It's not the headline news. His qualities ... I never really knew it, he's got incredible leadership skills. But it's hidden and we gotta try to pull it out."– Urban Meyer on Cardale Jones
Jones is arguably college football's most popular story of the summer — and he may not even get the starting job come Sept. 7 in the season opener at Virginia Tech.
"I enjoyed that the two or three weeks after the national championship game and then it was back to business," Jones said of the glory that comes with being Big Man On Campus. "We all have a goal as individual players to produce and living on cloud nine too long is dangerous."
People love him and notice him now more than ever — Jones said he can hardly go anywhere without posing for a photo with a fan — for helping bring a national title to a fanbase that had been thirsting for one since 2002. He's fun-loving, free-spirited and always ready to flash that million dollar smile at anyone willing to take it.
But the other side still remains in Jones — the side that contains an ill-fated tweet and the occasional lapse in punctuality. For example, he was about 10 minutes late to the event in Sandusky Friday, telling his head coach it was due to a morning workout and then bad traffic.
"He was either late because of bad traffic, or late because he's Cardale," Meyer joked when Jones lumbered onto the stage at the Kalahari Resort.
That's just it. He's Cardale. He's the guy who's still stuck in the middle of a three-tier ranking system at Ohio State that judges maturity and responsibility. Blue, the first tier, is bad (for obvious reasons), then comes red and finally gold, each step with more luxuries than the one before it. Sheepishly, Jones admitted he was the only one of the three quarterbacks still stuck in the red phase.
The problem is, such a position could work against him in the battle to start at quarterback this fall. Not only does performance on the field matter, but taking care of business off it is just as important.
"No, it would never be just who is the best football player," Jones said. "I do believe it's the best overall guy in and outside the classroom, on and off the field."
He's come a long way from the tweet complaining about needing to go to class as a Division I football player, but there's still ways to go. Especially now with his popularity beaming as bright as can be in the college football landscape.
"It's non-stop conversation with him because he's magnetic," Meyer told reporters after the event. "Who wants to hire people like that to be a CEO for everybody? But he's gotta tighten up some other areas. Being on time, doing the right things and it just comes with maturity."
They are little things that can be corrected easily with a tad more focus and attention to detail. His issues could be a lot worse, and Meyer knows it.
"The good thing is, he's a very good person. His stuff is 'stuff.' Late for this, whatever. It's not the headline news," Meyer said. "His qualities ... I never really knew it, he's got incredible leadership skills. But it's hidden and we gotta try to pull it out."
Meyer said he missed Jones' May 1 stunt when the quarterback claimed to be transferring to the University of Akron. Jones, however, swears he thought it was actually a month earlier — April Fool's Day.
"Tell him I'll go sign his papers right now," Meyer said with a smile when asked about it Friday.
Such is life during the summer of Cardale Jones. A dynamic and powerful personality shot to mega-stardom following three prime-time victories against Wisconsin, Alabama and Oregon residing in a body and mind of an ever-evolving, ever-maturing individual who loves what he does and where he is in his life.
"The thought process of how life has changed for me is already over. Understanding my role not just on my team and my role in my community, but my role in the national spotlight," Jones said. "I understand that now and just being more cognizant of my activities and what I say and what I do."