As the last two winners of the Rimington Award, which honors the best center in college football, former Ohio State centers Pat Elflein and Billy Price have their pictures hanging on the walls of the Woody Hayes Athletic Center.
When Matthew Jones sees those pictures at Ohio State each day, it motivates Jones to follow in their footsteps.
Ranked as the No. 1 center for the recruiting class of 2018 out of Erasmus Hall in Brooklyn, New York, Jones arrived in Columbus last month as an early enrollee, and he already has his sights set on becoming the Buckeyes’ next great center.
In order to achieve that, though, Jones knows he must work as hard as Elflein and Price did in their Ohio State careers – starting now.
"To see that I have a chance of being in the same position they are, I just got to put the effort in and give it my all just like they did," Jones said while meeting with the media on National Signing Day. "You always got to have a finish mindset. You’ve always got to say that 'I could be great.' You could be the next Billy Price, and that’s the mindset I have basically every day."
While Elflein and Price both redshirted in their first years on campus, and did not start at center until they were fifth-year seniors, Jones has a shot – by virtue of already being on campus and able to participate to spring practice – to potentially compete to start for the Buckeyes at center as a true freshman.
Fifth-year senior Brady Taylor is projected to succeed Price as the starting center, but that’s no guarantee. Taylor, who backed up Price last year, will still have to compete for the starting job this spring, and while fourth-year junior Matthew Burrell projects to be Taylor’s top competition, Jones should get a shot to make his case for the job as well.
Jones is looking forward to that opportunity to compete, and believes he has a chance to win the job if he performs well, but he expects Taylor, Burrell and others to also fight hard for the job.
"It’s always about competing, no matter what you do, players always compete," Jones said. "I’m hungry for it, as much as everybody else is. Everybody’s going to compete. It’s not going to come easy, not going to just fall in any hands or whatever, but that’s it. It’s just about competing."
“You could be the next Billy Price, and that’s the mindset I have basically every day.”– Matthew Jones
While Elflein and Price each spent three seasons playing guard before moving to center for their final seasons as Buckeyes, Jones appears more likely to have an opportunity to play at center sooner than he would at guard. The Buckeyes have a returning two-year starter at left guard in Michael Jordan, while Branden Bowen and Demetrius Knox both started games at right guard last year, and while it’s possible that Bowen or Jordan could move outside to tackle this year, the Buckeyes also have a pair of redshirt freshman guards who should push for playing time sooner than later in Wyatt Davis and Josh Myers.
Jones expects to cross-train at guard, nevertheless, and would be happy for an opportunity to see the field at any of the three interior offensive line positions, but his aspiration is to ultimately be the Buckeyes’ man in the middle.
"I like to challenge myself really, because it’s a lot of responsibility," Jones said of playing center. "You have to check the play call, and I like challenges. And I just think it’s better for me."
Since arriving on campus, Jones says his primary focus has been on improving his conditioning, as he and his new teammates are currently going through winter workouts with Mickey Marotti and Ohio State’s strength and conditioning staff.
While Jones is still acclimating to being a college student and a Buckeye, he singled out Burrell specifically as a player who has taken him under his wing and shown him the ropes.
"He’s like basically my mentor," Jones said of Burrell. "Since I came here he started telling me stuff I needed to improve on. Me and him snap the ball and build connections. After class we’ll meet up and get some weight room in."
Jones says he has also already built a strong bond with Ohio State offensive line coach Greg Studrawa.
"Coach Stud is fantastic," Jones said. "Playbook-wise, he always has the time to sit down, build relationships with you, go through things you have to struggle through and everything, but he’s fantastic."
Over the next six to seven months, it will start to become clear whether Jones could see the field as a true freshman – like Jordan did two years ago – or whether he, like Price, Elflein and many other successful Ohio State offensive linemen before them, will have to wait his turn to play a significant role in game action.
Regardless of how that ultimately plays out, though, Jones says he will do everything he can to make the most of every opportunity he gets.
"It would be a great feeling for me to start, but whatever it takes me, I’m just glad to be a Buckeye. Every snap of the ball or every time I ever get to get on the field, I’ll just give it my all," Jones said. "I’m going to give it my all no matter what. You give me a shot, I’m going to give it my all."