COLUMBUS, Ohio — Quarterback Cardale Jones shocked the college football world in three late-season starts leading Ohio State to the national championship.

He surprised a packed crowd again on Thursday, declaring at his old high school in Cleveland that he would return to the Buckeyes rather than jump into the NFL draft.

“My decision was very simple. I had to talk it over with my family, my friends, my coaching staff,” he said. “I’m going to return next year for school.”

That sentence was met with audible gasps in the gymnasium, then applause from students and teachers.

Jones, who spent a year at a military school and also had a redshirt season with the Buckeyes, could have turned pro. In his only college starts he led Ohio State to wins in the Big Ten title game, the Sugar Bowl and Monday night’s national championship.

“It’s everybody’s dream and goal when they play football or any collegiate sport to make it to the next level,” he said, wearing a gray T-shirt with his nickname “12 Gauge” because of his uniform number and shotgun-like arm. “At my point in my career, I feel like it’s best for me to go back to school. One of the most important things for me to do is graduate.

“When I make that decision to play in the NFL, I want to be done with school. I want to devote all of my time and all my effort to the film room and getting better at playing the quarterback position.”

Then, before several hundred people at the Ginn Academy, part of Glenville Academic Campus, he added: “Thank all of you guys for coming out. I don’t know why you guys made it such a big deal.”

Two months ago, almost no one knew who Jones was. On Thursday, his decision was broadcast live on ESPN.

The cable network’s draft guru, Mel Kiper Jr., said Jones could go as high as the second round of the draft. He, like many football experts, believed Jones, who recently became a father, would jump to the pros.