From the moment he stepped on campus for the Maryland football team's winter workout program, Keandre Jones made an immediate impression on anyone he came into contact with. He was first in drills, pushing his new teammates and bringing a positive attitude to the grueling offseason workouts that build the foundation of a winning football team.
"The biggest thing is he's earned the respect of his teammates with his work ethic," head coach Mike Locksley said. "And the more comfortable and the more he's gotten to know his teammates, you're starting to see the true character and the type of leadership that he'll be able to bring to our team."
For Jones, a former consensus four-star linebacker from Olney, Md., this moment has been in the making for years. As a junior at Good Counsel in 2014, Jones committed to the Terps, largely due to his relationship with Locksley, then Maryland's offensive coordinator.
He remained committed for more than a year until Locksley wasn't retained as head coach after the 2015 season. Locksley left for Alabama, and Jones decommitted from Maryland and followed quarterback Dwayne Haskins to Ohio State ahead of the 2016 season.
Jones and Locksley wouldn't be reunited until it was announced the linebacker was transferring to Maryland in January. He is enrolled in classes and has been on the field with the team during spring practice.
Jones said he has applied for a hardship waiver but offered no details about when he will find out if he can suit up for Maryland this fall. Undergraduate transfers must sit out a year unless they are granted a waiver, per NCAA rules.
"My intention now is school first and just getting through the spring," Jones said. "We will let the waiver stuff handle itself out."
While he waits, Jones has jumped at the opportunity to be reunited with Locksley at the school he had nearly attended.
"Originally being from here, this is where I'm comfortable," he said. "I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to come back with Coach Locksley, which was a huge opportunity for me. It really was a no-brainer once I put my name in that transfer portal."
While Locksley worked his way up the coaching ladder at Alabama, becoming the Crimson Tide's offensive coordinator en route to an appearance in the national title game in January, Jones played sparingly for the Buckeyes. He totaled 29 tackles and one sack in three seasons.
Jones downplayed his lack of playing time at Ohio State, instead choosing to view the experience as a positive. He matured as a man on and off the field, he said, learning to deal with how to live in an unfamiliar city far from home.
"You step into a role that sometimes you don't want to play," Jones said, "but I took full advantage of my opportunities on special teams and just try to help my team out as best I could."
His coaches have already seen his maturity in the brief time they've spent together. Outside linebackers coach Brian Williams said he notices Jones "picking and choosing his times to be vocal" and other times simply showing by doing.
"We have a young room for the most part and he brings experience and maturity and just knowing how to handle business on this level," Williams said. "You can see he's really, really driven to do well. He's driven to be a really good teammate and to fit in here."
And for defensive coordinator Jon Hoke, Jones' time at a winning program like Ohio State can only help the team.
"You can't replace experience," Hoke said. "It's always great to have."
Sophomore receiver Jeshaun Jones equated Keandre Jones to fellow transfer linebacker Tre Watson, who played one season at Maryland after three years at Illinois. Watson led the team in tackles and interceptions and earned first-team All-Big Ten honors in 2018.
"He's a little more vocal than Tre," Jeshaun Jones said. "Tre was a great leader to the defense. He talked to those guys. On the field, [Keandre] talks to the defense mostly but in the locker room, he'll get around and talk to some of the offensive guys. They're both great leaders though."
Keandre Jones' leadership goes beyond football, the receiver said.
"If you need somebody to talk to off the field, on the field, about whatever, school, girlfriend, football, he'll be the guy that you can go talk to," Jeshaun Jones said.
For Keandre Jones, being a team captain is yet another reason why he came to Maryland.
"I'm just trying to play my role and just be a leader for the other guys and show them how to work and how to be a winner. ... Hopefully, that comes in the future," he said. "Time will tell. And we'll see how this spring plays out."
Locksley said he hasn't spoken directly to Jones about becoming a captain, a decision he and his coaching staff will make heading into the fall. But the coach did admit Jones has shown the characteristics of someone who could wear a "C" on his chest.
"Leadership is having the ability to have a positive impact on others," Locksley said, "and Keandre, from the day that he stepped foot on campus here with us, whether it was in the [offseason workout] program that we held with conditioning in our winter conditioning program, he is one of those guys."
Photo Credit: Courtesy of Ohio State Athletic Dept.