COLUMBUS, Ohio — When Brooklyn (N.Y.) Erasmus Hall coach Danny Landberg brought 4-star recruit Curtis Samuel to Ohio State’s Friday Night Lights camp, he also brought along a player who’d not yet reached high school.
Matthew Jones was an eighth grader, but he already had the making of a future elite college football recruit. Landberg, who became a fan of Urban Meyer after watching his Utah teams light up the scoreboard in 2003 and 2004, wanted the Ohio State coach to see what was coming from his program in the years to come.
“I brought him to meet Urban Meyer in eighth grade because I want Urban to see what’s going on,” Landberg told Land of 10. “Urban understands why I’m bringing a certain kid that far. But I thought [Jones] handled his recruitment really well.”
More than four years later, Samuel is in the NFL and Jones is beginning his Ohio State career. With Samuel and defensive back Jahsen Wint coming before him, Jones is the third player in the last five recruiting classes that the Brooklyn school has sent to Ohio State.
Now that he’s in Columbus, the nation’s No. 1 center in the Class of 2018 is looking to join a different pipeline. Each of the last two centers at Ohio State has won the Rimington Trophy as college football’s best center. Pat Elflein did it in 2016, and Billy Price joined him in 2017. As Ohio State’s first two national award winners since 2008, there’s no shortage of reminders in the Woody Hayes Athletic Center of what they accomplished.
“It motivates me every day,” Jones said. “I look at the posters on the wall and I’m like, man. It’s great to see that I have a shot. They gave their maximum effort and I also believe that I can do the same. To see that I have a chance of being in the same position they are, I just have to put the effort in and give it my all just like they did. ”
And while it’s unlikely that Jones can win the starting job in 2018, that’s not going to stop him from pushing the players in front of him and working to improve. He said he’s approaching winter workouts and spring practice with a competitive mindset.
“It’s not going to be easy,” he said. “It’s just straight about competing. I’m just here to compete also. I know I’m a freshman and other guys that have been here already want to compete, but that’s all. Just compete.”
Though he’s been a college student for less than two months, Jones came across like an upperclassman during his media availability on National Signing Day. He spoke over and over about responsibility and maturity being the key factors in making the early transition from high school to college.
Landberg believes that working with strength and conditioning coach Mickey Marotti could have a transformative effect on Jones, especially given his elite athleticism. And if that talent is fully unlocked, Ohio State could end up with its best find yet from Brooklyn.
“He is arguably — and I say this including Curtis Samuel — arguably the best player I’ve had so far, relatively speaking,” Landberg said.