Tonight, third-string QB, Cardale Jones, leads The Ohio State University against Oregon for the National Championship. Adam Crawford explains why the rough-around-the-edges Jones exemplifies the purpose of college sports.
What is the purpose of the college athlete—in the eyes the college athlete?
We know what the purpose of the athlete is in the eyes of the school, the fans, and the networks. But why does a college athlete give up the precious freedom to sleep in during the week?
Most college athletes never become a professional in their sport, in fact, less than 2% of college athletes get paid to play their sport after college.
So why do they do it?
Because it’s about growing up. And if we’re talking about Cardale Jones, the purpose was to become a man.
When Cardale Jones left Ginn Academy in Cleveland, Ohio (the only all-male public high school in the state), he went to be a college quarterback. With such a move would come many things; early mornings, late practices, a class schedule, g.p.a. requirements, and more fake friends than anyone could shake a stick at.
But what he didn’t intend was it would be his maturation process.
Cardale’s first foray into the public sphere – a Tweet he sent during his freshman year in 2012 at OSU – demonstrated his immaturity:
“Why should we have to go to class if we came here to play FOOTBALL, we ain’t come to play SCHOOL, classes are POINTLESS.”
His petition that he shouldn’t have to go to class at all came long before his growing process had reached the level it’s at today.
It’s about teaching kids how to be adults.
In fact, that’s what college really is.
When I went to college I wasn’t on an athletic scholarship, but I was on an ROTC scholarship. It had many of the same requirements. Early morning physical training, long weekend training exercises, and month long camps over the summer. I didn’t know what I was getting into, but I know what I got out of it. I became a man. I matured because of the journey I experienced.
Two years ago, Cardale Jones was being criticized because of that Tweet.
On Monday night, Cardale Jones will take the field as a former third-string quarterback. He is now the leader of a storied team in search of its first National Championship since 2002. But whether or not the Buckeyes walk away hoisting Jones on their shoulders, it’s been a big season for their newly appointed starting quarterback.
On November 7th, Cardale Jones became a father.
Cardale was recruited by schools such as LSU and Michigan, but chose to try his hand at OSU. He was even willing to redshirt a year in order to increase his chances of becoming a quarterback for the Buckeyes.
In the early goings, this process led him to show up for the Buckeyes out of shape and, seemingly, unwilling to change his ways. He was late to practice, missed class, and didn’t seem to respect authority. His opinions were widely known and at one point, former offensive coordinator, Tom Herman, made him sign an ultimatum contract. If he missed one more class or fell below a stated grade point average he’d no longer wear a Buckeye uniform.
He’s still here.
On January 8th, Cardale could be found winning a game in front of a much smaller crowd. He visited a kid in the hospital and proceeded to beat him in an NCAA Football video game, by about how much Oregon beat Florida State last weekend. A loss that kid will remember for the rest of his life.
It’s a great story that a National Championship contender will be led by a third-string quarterback. It’s an even better story that, by his growth, he has displayed the purpose of college athletics in front of millions of people.
Cardale Jones started his college career as a troubled individual, but over the last two and a half years, he’s learned a few things.
And most importantly—he’s grown up.
His coach, Urban Meyer, agrees:
“He has some good support back home from some people,” Meyer said. “We had them come down, and they weren’t pleasant meetings. I noticed last year a complete transformation from this very immature person, not just a player, but a person. He is taking care of his business.”
If you haven’t read the article in Sports Illustrated about Jones, it will give you more insight into, not only his story, but the story of many others just like him. The Ginn Academy is giving kids a support system for their maturation process:
One of Ginn’s sayings is that his kids shouldn’t be labeled “at risk,” as the only risk is that they won’t reach their potential.
“You can’t see where you’re going if you’re dealing with what you’re going through,” Ginn says. “That was Cardale.”
When Cardale was veering off his path, Meyer brought in those folks from his support system, and they helped get him square.
College athletics, and college in general, don’t exist because it’s going to get you a job. There are plenty of college graduates proving that statement a fallacy at this very moment.
College is about a journey. A journey of discovery.
Cardale Jones is one example of the system working the way it’s supposed to work.
It’s easy for us to look at a player who is acting out, or doing morally shaky things, and immediately scream that they’re supposed to be a role model.
Maybe that’s true for someone like Ray Rice. He gets paid, or did get paid, to represent the idea of making it in sports. The idea that you can achieve your dream. But college athletes can’t always be held to that standard, and they shouldn’t be given that burden. College is the place where you’re supposed to make mistakes.
You’re supposed to find your path.
It’s hard to say if the Buckeyes defense will be able to stop a flashy Oregon team. Urban Meyer’s reaction in the media tent after their last win can give you insight into his level of worry for big plays from the Ducks.
It’s even harder to say how Cardale Jones will react to the biggest game of his life. But rest assured he will be playing for more than a trophy.
He will be playing for his daughter, and the mother of his daughter. He’ll be playing for that kid in the hospital.
His Tweets these days are a bit different from that one in 2012:
Don’t Let Your Demons Take You To Hell, Introduce Them To Heaven
— Cardale Jones (@CJ12_) January 6, 2015
So no matter how you feel about his character from two years ago, looking at what he’s done on the field, and especially off the field, you have to admit that college athletics served its purpose for one third-string quarterback.
No matter the result of tonight’s game, Cardale Jones has become a man.
Photo Credit: Associated Press/Darron Cummings
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