Ohio State is playing in the Rose Bowl on January 1.
Who will be playing for Ohio State, though?
That’s become an increasingly necessary question throughout college football as more and more draft-eligible seniors and juniors opt to skip the postseason and get a head start on preparation for the NFL draft.
The trend hit Ohio State last season when cornerback Denzel Ward chose not to play in the Cotton Bowl (he was ultimately drafted No. 4 overall by the Cleveland Browns), but it appears the Buckeyes will be at full strength when they take on Washington in Pasadena.
Dre’Mont Jones, a fourth-year junior who considered entering the 2018 draft, was thought to be a candidate to follow in Ward’s footsteps, but he ended the suspense this week.
“I’m playing,” he said Wednesday. “I mean with everything we've been through, I kind of just don't want to leave and just do my own thing just yet because I still have another game to play.”
The Cleveland St. Ignatius produce led Ohio State with 13 tackles for loss and was second with 8.5 sacks, production he felt justified spending the past season in Columbus rather than the NFL.
“I think it was a great decision for me to come back,” he said. “I kind of proved myself instead of it just being talk or having other players say that I'm talented instead of me actually just showing it myself. I feel like I had a successful year.”
He added that he did not really consider not sitting out the Rose Bowl and that getting hurt isn’t a big concern, either.
“I feel like you can get injured doing anything,” Jones said. “You can get injured walking outside, I can get injured driving home in my car. I can get injured doing anything so injuries are going to be there. Can't really just avoid that so I'm going to play, I love the game of football so I'm going to play.”
That did not surprise fellow defensive lineman Davon Hamilton.
“He’s just a competitor,” Hamilton said. “You can’t really ask anything else out of him. He loves us just as much as we love him. This is gonna be his last football game being a Buckeye probably, so I’m excited to see him play.”
Most deferring draft decisions
Jones was the only draft-eligible Ohio State player who spoke at the team’s media availability Wednesday to reveal his plans for next season.
He is not coming back for a fifth year and will enter the draft.
“I’m leaving,” he said. “It’s not secret.”
The other Buckeyes who were asked about what they might do did not commit to anything — except weighing their options when the time comes.
“Right now I’m focused on Washington, of course,” quarterback Dwayne Haskins said. “The NFL talk is there and everybody hears it. That’s just a blessing to be a part of and it’s been a dream come true, but as far as making a decision, I haven’t made one yet.”
A sophomore in eligibility, Haskins redshirted in 2016 so he has two years of eligibility left.
After setting numerous school and Big Ten records, being named the most valuable player of the conference and finishing third in the Heisman balloting, he could hear his name called early in the first round of the 2019 draft but refused to show his hand this week.
“I’ve still got a lot of time left here at Ohio State and I’m just taking it day by day, make a decision after the bowl game,” Haskins said. “So I just want to be fully undivided and make sure I give to my guys everything I can give over the last couple days of practice and the last few weeks of the season and send (retiring head coach Urban) Meyer off on the right note.”
Others to say Wednesday they have a decision yet to make were running back Mike Weber, linebacker Malik Harrison and safety Jordan Fuller.
“I mean it’s in the back of my head, but I try not to bring it up,” said Harrison, a junior who led Ohio State with 74 tackles this season. “Just try to get through this last game and see what my options are.”
The Columbus native finished the season strong but acknowledged another year in school could benefit him “just growing up more and taking my game to another level.”
Fuller, who was second in tackles with 72, said he sought the NFL draft advisory board’s input on where he might be drafted but has not made a decision yet.
“That doesn’t mean I am leaning either way,” he said. “I will just write out the pros and cons with my family and make an informed decision. That’s not the main focus right now. I just want to get better every day and give my all for my teammates because they deserve it. I want to give my all for Coach Meyer as well.”
Weber, like Jones, has acknowledged considering leaving last year.
He has been viewed all year as a likely goner this time around but also said he is still thinking about what he will do.
“I’m just focused on winning this game and doing everything I can personally to help the team win,” Weber said.