PICKERINGTON, Ohio -- Justin Fields smiled when informed that a camper at his recent youth football camp in a Columbus, Ohio suburb said they plan to switch from following their favorite NFL team to follow him as he begins his career with the Chicago Bears. Fields, the No. 11 overall pick in the 2021 draft, left Ohio State as one of the most accomplished players in program history. Along with his play on the field, Fields' spearheading of a petition for the Big Ten to have a 2020 season etched his name in Ohio State football lore.
"It feels good," Fields said about the camper's comment. "The more fans that we can get, the better. I'm just going to try to convert all these kids to be Bears fans, for sure."
Playing for a football-crazed city is nothing new for Fields. In Columbus, Fields routinely rose to the pressure associated with high-stakes college football. The Offensive MVP of this year's Sugar Bowl, Fields won 20 of his 22 starts at Ohio State, including two Big Ten titles and consecutive appearances in the College Football Playoff. Fields won over Buckeye fans with his talent as well as his toughness (he threw an OSU bowl game record six touchdown passes against Clemson despite suffering a nasty hit to his midsection during the second quarter).
Fields said he is already feeling the love from a fanbase that is desperate for a longterm franchise quarterback.
"I love it in Chicago," Fields said. "I've only been to Chicago, before I got drafted, one time, and I really wasn't in the city. The city is nice. Of course, the fan base is really crazy about their Bears. Definitely feel the love from the fan base. The coaches are great. Everybody's great at the organization. I'm definitely excited."
Ohio's appreciation of Fields was on display on Sunday, as a slew of young players flocked to Pickerington High School North to be around the former Heisman Trophy finalist. There was no shortage of fans sporting Fields' new Bears jersey.
"I just came here to get better, but I thought it was pretty cool to get to meet him," said Avery Deshong, a sophomore quarterback at nearby Mount Vernon High School. "His team looks pretty good."
Fields' new team does indeed look improved following what was largely a disappointing 2020 season. While they did make the playoffs for the second time in three years under coach Matt Nagy, Chicago slogged through a .500 regular season before meekly exiting the playoffs in the wild-card round. Chicago responded by adding significant pieces to an offense that was 23rd in the NFL in scoring and 31st in third down efficiency last season. Along with signing former Patriots receiver Damiere Byrd, the Bears spent their first draft picks on offense. The Bears also signed former Bengals Pro Bowl quarterback Andy Dalton. Barring injury, Nagy said the plan is for Fields to watch and learn behind Dalton, who earned his second opportunity to start for an NFL franchise after playing well in relief of Dak Prescott during his one season in Dallas.
The hope in Chicago is that the Bears' offense can better complement a defense that boasts some of the NFL's best players in linebackers Khalil Mack, Roquan Smith, Danny Trevathan and free safety Eddie Jackson. The Bears have their work cut out for them, however, as they have the league's third-toughest schedule based on their opponents' cumulative 2020 win/loss total. Chicago's path to the playoffs will likely get easier if Aaron Rodgers decides not to attend the Packers' training camp after skipping mandatory minicamp earlier this offseason.
With his first NFL training camp on the horizon, Fields was asked to reflect on his legacy at Ohio State. In giving his answer, Fields offered more insight into his intangible strengths that contributed to the Bears trading him to acquire him in the draft.
"I want to be remembered as a quarterback, a teammate, that was always there for his guys, always there for his teammates, always willing to do whatever," Fields said. "Not necessarily on-the-field stuff. Of course, I want to be remembered as a great player, but that's not the most important thing to me. The most important thing to me is what kind of person I am and how did I affect other people. That's how I want to be remembered the most."