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The easy decision would’ve been to look elsewhere. Move on. Pick a program that would give him an immediate chance.
But that didn’t appeal to Matthew Jones, Ohio State’s offensive lineman. He didn’t seek out an easy path, even if he had to redshirt his first year at Ohio State and serve as a backup most of his next two seasons.
“High school is different. A lot of people don’t understand that,” the Brooklyn native and former Erasmus Hall star offensive lineman told The Post over the phone in advance of Monday’s national championship game. “You don’t just come in and [get] a spot, especially at a big-time place like this. It doesn’t work like that. You have to keep working.”
Sitting was frustrating, after rarely leaving the field in high school. Watching wasn’t what the four-star, top-75 recruit imagined when he picked Ohio State over Georgia, Michigan and Penn State, among others. But the 6-foot-4, 310-pound Jones, a high school All-American, wanted to play at the highest level. The redshirt sophomore believed he was good enough to make an impact if presented with an opportunity.
Finally, in Ohio State’s regular-season finale, his name was called. Then, again, in the College Football Playoff on New Year’s Day. The Buckeyes were short starters due to the COVID-19 pandemic. He thrived in both opportunities at left guard and could have a major role against Alabama in the biggest game of the year at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens, Fla. Monday night, the lone New York City native who will play in the game. In both starts, Jones received a “Champions” grade from the coaching staff, a rating they give out to players who contribute directly to victories.
“They haven’t been two easy games, either,” starting center Josh Myers said. “They’ve been really important games.”
In tough times, when Jones doubted himself, when he wondered if his time would ever come, he leaned on the team’s veterans. They all went through it. They experienced the frustration of waiting. They shared their own stories with him, and assured him his work would be rewarded eventually. They showed him their film when they were his age.
“Everyone had different situations they overcame at some point,” Jones said. “They all had to work their way up.”
Just as they predicted, his time came, first against Michigan State and then against Clemson. Jones was part of an impressive performance by the Buckeyes’ offensive line in the playoff semifinal, opening holes for running Trey Sermon to produce 193 yards on 31 carries and giving quarterback Justin Fields enough time to set an Ohio State record for a bowl game with six touchdown passes.
“I felt like I opened some eyes for the coaches,” Jones said. “It did take me awhile to make this step. I showed them I’m capable and can get the job done.
“That game was a big game for me. It was a challenge and it was something I was able to overcome.”
Next up is an even bigger challenge: undefeated Alabama. A national championship is on the line. And, chances are, Jones will be on the field as it is decided.
“It’ll be amazing,” he said.