Just a little over five years ago, it wouldn't have surprised Cardale Jones to know that he was being looked upon as the cornerstone of a championship football team.
After all, Jones had just stepped into an injury-created vacancy as Ohio State's starting quarterback and directed the Buckeyes to the first College Football Playoff championship.
But if you had told Jones then that the team counting on him for a title would embark upon its mission the week after the Super Bowl, he wouldn't have known what to think.
Welcome to the XFL, Cardale, and a much different dream than seemed likely given your first 15 minutes of on-field fame.
Jones and former Ohio State teammates Doran Grant and Tracy Sprinkle are teammates on the DC Defenders, who begin play in WWE kingpin Vince McMahon's eight-team XFL at 2 p.m. Feb. 8.
Teams will play a 10-game schedule, with playoffs beginning in mid-April and the championship game April 26.
It gives a whole different meaning to, spring football, which Jones was getting ready for at this time in 2015 a few weeks after surprisingly announcing his return to OSU for his senior season.
It's easy to look back now and assess Jones' decision as a mistake, given that he lost the starting job at OSU to J.T. Barrett, the injured starter he replaced at the end of the 2014 season, in 2015 and subsequently sank on NFL Draft boards.
Jones wound up a fourth-round pick of the Buffalo Bills, No. 139 overall, and wound up throwing just 11 passes as a rookie in the final half of the final game of the season.
Those are the only NFL passes he's ever thrown, since getting signed and cut by both the San Diego Chargers and Seattle Seahawks, which explains why Jones is trying to rebuild his career in the XFL.
Fourth-round NFL picks don't get the second chances that first- or second-round picks do, and it's likely Jones would have been one or the other in 2015 had he cashed in on his success with OSU in the College Football Playoff.
The 2015 NFL Draft featured quarterbacks Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota taken Nos. 1 and 2 overall, but there wasn't another quarterback taken before the 75th overall selection in the middle of Round 3.
Jones' size and robust arm would have been too intoxicating to ignore.
Some teams might have been afraid to take him, because of his inexperience, but there likewise would have been teams afraid not to take him because of the potential he flashed in the only three starts of his OSU career.
Teams would have undoubtedly nit-picked Jones during the pre-draft process, but with the Cleveland Browns floundering -- then, now and, it appears, always -- and in possession of both the 12th and 19th pick in the 2016 first round, the pressure on the franchise in Jones' hometown would have been enormous to take him.
Even if he had failed -- like every Browns' quarterback savior before him -- Jones would have had a lot more money in his pocket and likely wouldn't yet be out of mulligans yet in a league where Paxton Lynch, who washed out as a first-round quarterback the year Jones came out -- is still on an NFL roster.
"Everybody’s going to make a decision based on what they think is important to them, what they value, what they want to see their life end up like in the long run," Jones told USA Today at Defenders' training camp. "You’re not wrong or right for declaring or leaving early, or going back. It’s just what you think was right for you at that time in your life and your career."
Jones received his OSU degree in the spring of 2017, completing a full-circle change on academics from the time he complained on Twitter as an underclassmen that, "We ain't here to play school."
"It meant a lot to me and my family," Jones said. "I’m the first one to graduate from college....I put as much work into my academics as I put into my body and my athletic career. I felt like if I hadn’t finished that, I would’ve always felt like it’s something I worked hard on and didn’t finish, or didn’t succeed in."
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