Jones ready for his opportunity

COLUMBUS — After years of biding his time at Ohio State, offensive lineman Matthew Jones is finally in line to break fall camp as a starter for the Buckeyes.

The former top-100 prospect in the 2018 recruiting class is firmly entrenched as the starting right guard for offensive line coach Justin Frye, and barring any injuries, should take the field with the offense when Ohio State welcomes Notre Dame to Ohio Stadium on Sept. 3.

Now a fifth-year senior, Jones will bring plenty of experience to the position, having played in 29 games overall while starting five of them. The thrill of taking the field with the offense for the first series of the season has eluded him, however, and Jones said on Monday that he’s very much looking forward to the opportunity should he get it next month. That it would be in a primetime matchup against a top-10 opponent has only ramped up his excitement.

“It’s going to be great. I’m more of a person who just locks in and focuses on everything I have to do, but I just can’t wait because it’s going to feel great,” Jones said of starting against Notre Dame.

Jones is no stranger to playing in high-stakes, emotionally-charged contests. In the absence of multiple players as a result of a COVID-19 outbreak, Jones started both College Football Playoff games to conclude the 2020 season. He fared well, particularly against Clemson in the Sugar Bowl, and fully expected to parlay that momentum into a starting gig last season.

Ultimately, however, then-offensive line coach Greg Studrawa elected to slide tackles Thayer Munford and Paris Johnson Jr. to guard in an attempt to get who he felt were his five best overall linemen onto the field together. The moves again relegated Jones to a reserve role, and he admitted last September he was hurt and that it was hard for him when he found out he was the odd man out in the starting lineup.

Rather than hang his head or considering other options, two reactions that would have been understandable given his journey, Jones did what he’s always done and looked inward to figure out how he could take the final step to become a starter at Ohio State.

“Growing up, everything was about (understanding) there’s going to be ups and downs,” Jones said on Monday. “And this program, I love this program, the way we work together, the brotherhood, and I did whatever I had to do. Coaches told me how I needed to get better and I worked on it.”

That patience and perseverance paid off for him last season as he was twice called upon to start as a result of injuries. Studrawa even went as far as to say mid-season a year ago that if he had to reconsider his best five offensive linemen, the decision would have been much tougher given the way Jones had played to that point.

Now under the direction of Frye, there are no such difficulties in assessing Jones’ place among Ohio State’s best linemen. He is an unquestioned leader of the unit and arguably one of the best interior linemen in the conference.

Although it may not have come easy for him, Jones feels he’s a better player as a result.

“I’m proud of myself for not giving up and continuing to push myself through the ups and downs,” Jones said. “I’m just happy to be where I’m at now. And I’m just going to keep pushing myself and grinding … You just have to trust the process. There are always going to be obstacles thrown at you.”

He added of his likely status as a starter, “It’s something to smile about and just be happy with yourself. A lot of people struggle to do what I do, and I’m just proud of myself for holding on.”