Georgia not slowing down as top recruit Justin Fields makes curious decision
Fields will enter a quarterback room packed with talent in Athens next season
KENNESAW, Ga. -- Justin Fields sat at the end of bench, alone. It was a strange scene under the Friday Night Lights for the nation's No. 1 high school player.
The Kennesaw Harrison High quarterback was the best player on the field the night I saw him last month. He was also arguably the biggest reason the Hoyas lost to rival North Cobb that night, 45-42.
Two fumbles -- one that was recovered for a touchdown -- were the reason.
"Hey, I take full responsibility," Fields told his teammates afterwards. "It's on me."
"Struggling with the wet balls earlier," said his father, Ivant, strolling the sidelines. "It's all in his mind. He said it was in his mind, too, overcompensating for the wet ball."
A sudden first-quarter rainstorm had dampened everything but the quarterback's spirit. The fumbles came on consecutive possessions and led directly to North Cobb touchdowns.
"That's unacceptable," he said.
Fields is being called a generational talent, as close to a college franchise quarterback as there can be.
Never mind the turnovers, things couldn't be better right now for Georgia football. When Fields announced his non-binding verbal commitment to the Bulldogs last week, the good news was overflowing out of Athens.
No. 4 Georgia finds itself ranked in the top five of the AP Top 25 for the first time in five years. The Dawgs have rushed through six games undefeated in Kirby Smart's second season.
But Fields' arrival next year begs the question: Is it possible to have too many good players? The 6-foot-3, 220-pound specimen will be in a quarterback room that is already stocked with true freshman Jake Fromm and sophomore Jacob Eason.
Fields' commitment goes against the modern quarterback culture -- if you ain't startin', you're probably departin'. Big-time quarterback prospects these days meticulously pick not only their school but their situation. Best fit includes quarterback coach, offensive coordinator and fastest route to the NFL.
Somebody, it seems, is going to have to stand in line at Georgia.
"This is a kid who is not afraid of competition," said Barton Simmons, director of scouting for 247Sports. "I can't say I necessarily understand the thinking other than he's a kid who, when given a chance, thinks he can beat anyone out."
On the surface, it's easy to understand Fields going to his home state's flagship institution. But also consider that modern quarterback culture dictates that someone is going to be transferring.
Fields' arrival begs the question: Why is he coming to Georgia in the first place? Two quarterbacks with starting experience and plenty of remaining eligibility await.
"It doesn't make sense to me," Simmons added. "Fromm doesn't have the same NFL upside as Jacob Eason, much less Justin Fields, but if Fromm keeps winning at this clip it's hard to imagine him getting beat out."
For comparison's sake, the last five 247Sports No. 1 quarterback recruits have been Davis Mills (Stanford, 2017), Shea Patterson (Ole Miss, 2016), Josh Rosen (UCLA, 2015), Kyle Allen (Texas A&M, 2014) and Max Browne (USC, 2013).
Two of those five -- Allen and Browne -- have transferred.
Certainly Fields' humility gets five stars. His talent has already soared to those levels. His arm is a howitzer capable of throwing strikes far downfield. His body is big and strong enough to make him think he can make every play.
Even when it's wet.
"He's the best player I've ever coached," said Harrison coach Matt Dickmann, a high school veteran of three decades. "Justin is just head and shoulders above everybody. I just hope that he stays healthy in college because he's going to do great things in college against players that are just like him -- four and five stars."
Fields was held back in the eighth grade but not because of any athletic maneuvering.
"He really was immature … not turning in projects, things like that," his dad said. "It wasn't a sports thing. He was a little stumpy guy. He was 5-foot-8."
Between the ninth and 10th grade, Fields shot up.
"Six-foot-three is not in our family," Ivant said.
Dad played linebacker at Eastern Kentucky. Justin's sister is a softball commit at Georgia but that wasn't the deciding factor for her brother.
Maybe it's just the winning to be had at Georgia. Nick Saban collects tailbacks at Alabama like they're tchotchkes. His message: You're going to share time, but if you're good enough, you're going to arrive in the NFL with low mileage.
There's no such message for quarterbacks. They need reps. At some point during this year, Fields ascended to that No. 1 overall position, jumping fellow quarterback and Clemson commit Trevor Lawrence, another Georgia prospect from Cartersville.
"When we put this [spread] offense in last year, we retooled the whole thing," Dickmann said. "I was pretty much giving Justin the keys to the car; I wasn't going to tell him when to throw, when not to throw. He makes too many good decisions."
Most of the time. It was still strange that night to see Fields sitting alone on the end of the bench.
Meanwhile, a grim, dour Smart stood at the podium Monday. He didn't have the look of a coach of a team off to its best start since 2005, sporting its first top five ranking since 2012.
"That's not for me to judge," Smart said. "… We don't talk about what we're ranked. There's a difference because none of it matters. All we talk about is a race and the race is at the 50-meter mark."
That reminds me: Fields is good on the track, too. He can also run the 40-yard dash in 4.51 seconds.
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