Why you should care
This Buckeye was late to the game of football, but he now anchors a dominant unit on a national title contender.
Dre’Mont Jones never boxed, even though his father, middleweight Sanderline Williams, debuted in 1982 and fought the likes of James Toney and Iran Barkley during his 40 bouts. “I liked my face too much,” Jones says. He played football at St. Ignatius High in Cleveland, but his primary sport was basketball — until, that is, he tore his ACL in March of his senior year while chasing “hoop dreams” as a power forward.
That injury cost Jones his first year at Ohio State, but for the Buckeyes, he’s been worth the wait. Jones now shines in a sport where his 6-foot-3, 286-pound frame fits best. Despite playing only two years of high school football, Jones quickly emerged as a stalwart on the Ohio State defensive line, and as a leader on a team now grappling with the three-game suspension of legendary head coach Urban Meyer for not informing the school about domestic abuse allegations against an assistant coach.
Projected as an early-round pick, Jones, 21, spurned this year’s NFL draft so he could graduate from college and grow as a player and a person. “He’s one of our best players,” Meyer said, days before the school placed him on administrative leave. “What I saw out of spring practices, it’s hard to say he wasn’t one of the top one or two players on the team.”
It’s appropriate that one of the nation’s best teams, which narrowly missed out on the College Football Playoff last year, has one of its best players at defensive tackle. With several among the top draft prospects, including Houston’s Ed Oliver, Michigan’s Rashan Gary and Clemson’s Dexter Lawrence and Christian Wilkins, 2018 may go down as the Year of the Defensive Tackle. When NFL draft writer Dane Brugler posted his list of the top 32 prospects for The Athletic, half were defensive linemen. “Defensive line looks like the deepest we’ve seen in a long time,” Brugler says. “It’s absolutely loaded on the interior.”
The Buckeyes have added freshman Taron Vincent — widely regarded as the best defensive tackle recruit in the country — to its defensive line and could be even better than last season despite losing Jalyn Holmes, Tracy Sprinkle, Tyquan Lewis and Sam Hubbard to the NFL. Because of those departures, Ohio State plans to use Jones, a deft gap penetrator who had just one sack last year, in much more of a pass-rushing role. “He would come out last year on third downs,” Meyer said. “I can assure you he’s not coming out now.”
The most difficult sacrifice? “Cheetos, dog,” Jones says. “It’s hard to get rid of those.”
Jones lines up next to defensive end Nick Bosa, the potential No. 1 overall pick in the 2018 NFL draft. “I’m pretty positive we have the best defensive line,” Jones says. “It’s scary.”
Ohio State offensive tackle Isaiah Prince faces the fearsome unit in practice, including some intense one-on-one matchups versus Jones. The defensive tackle is so quick off the line at the snap that Prince sometimes thought Jones had jumped offside until film review confirmed otherwise. “Dre’Mont beats the cadence sometimes,” Prince says of the quarterback’s snap count. “As big as he is, you wouldn’t expect him to be so quick.”
Jones is now trying to maintain that quickness while adding weight and becoming more stout against the run. He’s already more focused in the weight room and on the practice field, arriving earlier, getting in the hot tank and stretching. And he’s improved his diet. The most difficult sacrifice? “Cheetos, dog,” Jones says. “It’s hard to get rid of those.”
After leading all Ohio State defensive linemen with 52 tackles as a redshirt freshman in 2016 — his 12 starts made him one of three freshmen defensive linemen to start double-digit games in the Buckeyes’ storied history — Jones earned third-team All-Big Ten honors last year. But his overall stats decreased (20 tackles, five tackles for loss, one sack) after he missed two games with a silly injury. While horsing around, he says he ran into a locker, lacerating his leg on a nail, and the injury required stitches. “I’m not an immature person, not an immature player,” Jones says. “Things happen that you can’t control.”
As a leader on this team who calls himself “the old guy now,” the redshirt junior also must mature on the field, where he racked up five penalties in fewer than 450 snaps in 2017. “I can’t get as tired and distracted,” Jones says.
Given the team’s depth, a national championship ring is within reach for Ohio State this year — even with the Meyer turmoil. While Jones never did box, he says he learned perseverance from his dad. He’ll need it now more than ever. Because Buckeye-legend status and NFL riches beckon, as long as Jones can stay on the field and lay off the Cheetos.