MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. — Mac Jones and Shaun Wade have known each other since they played together on a 7-on-7 football team in Jacksonville. Now the Alabama quarterback and Ohio State cornerback will play against each other for a national championship in their home state.
Jones will lead top-ranked Alabama's offense against Wade and No. 3 Ohio State's defense Monday night in the College Football Playoff National Championship at Hard Rock Stadium.
Both players hail from Jacksonville and were members of the same recruiting class in 2017.
Jones, who finished third in the Heisman Trophy voting, called Wade "a great guy, great family, really a technician, a longer guy and he played small in coverage."
Wade was equally complementary of Jones.
"Mac always knew we had his back at the end of the day with that whole 7-on-7 group," Wade told reporters Wednesday. "We always took care of him because he was the guy that went to Bolles, and everybody else was the guy that went to either the Raines or the Ribault or the lower schools in the local Jacksonville area."
Wade said he and his 7-on-7 teammates "always knew that Mac was a great quarterback."
"He put the ball in the right spots just like he's doing now, strong arm," Wade explained.
Jones has thrown for 4,036 yards and 36 touchdowns with just four interceptions this season, orchestrating an offense that ranks sixth nationally and helping the Crimson Tide to navigate a pandemic-plagued season unscathed.
"Yeah, this is a great offense," Ohio State defensive coordinator Kerry Coombs said. "It is a complete offense. There are now five All-Americans on the offensive side of the ball and a Heisman Trophy winner (wide receiver DeVonta Smith) and the runner-up. They have great players, but they also have a great scheme and they understand how to attack defenses. People have tried numerous different things against them, and they always have an answer. I think their kids play hard. I think they play physical. They run the ball well. They throw the ball obviously extremely well. They have great skill."
Coombs said the Buckeyes will be challenged by every facet of the offense, especially at the skill positions.
"And then obviously we're going to have to do a great job in coverage with the skill of the receivers and the quality of the quarterback," Coombs said.
Alabama offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian, who accepted the Texas head coaching job but will remain with the Tide through the national championship game, praised the play of Wade and the other Ohio State defensive backs.
"I think the two corners have great length," Sarkisian said. "They play the ball extremely well when it's in the air, thus you see the turnovers. They can play man-to-man. They can play zone coverage. I think one of the keys to passing the football is doing a great job up front. We're going to have to protect well when it's time to throw the football so we can allow Mac the time and the receivers time to do their thing down the field, and then we're going to have to win one-on-one opportunities when they come. I think when it's a talented group back there, that's the challenge, is to win your one-on-one battles, so that's what the focus will be on."
No matter the outcome, there will be plenty of excitement and respect when Jones and Wade face off.
"Just really, really looking forward to seeing him Monday and just playing against him," Wade said of Jones.