This season has been a mixed bag of emotions for Justin Fields.
He knew coming into his freshman season that it would be incredibly difficult, nearly impossible, to supplant Jake Fromm from Georgia’s starting quarterback role without something crazy happening. As a freshman in 2017, Fromm led Georgia to its first SEC championship in more than a decade, defeated Oklahoma in an “instant-classic” at the Rose Bowl and brought the Bulldogs within a few snaps of winning a national title.
He was aware of the challenge, but he didn’t want that to deter his college decision.
“I wanted to play here, I love this school,” Fields said Saturday night after Georgia’s 35-28 loss to Alabama in the SEC Championship game at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. “I’m not going to let some guy shy me away from that certain school.”
Still, coming to Athens as one of the nation’s top-rated players, Fields was “frustrated,” he said, with how little the coaching staff was using him.
Especially in big games, Fields was used sparingly. Against Missouri, it was a single carry for three yards. The same stat line against LSU. In Jacksonville against the Gators, Fields didn't even see the field. In a top-10 matchup with Kentucky, it was only handoffs. No throws, no carries.
Other more experienced players saw that frustration in Fields. Trying to help, patience is what they preached to him.
“Justin came in as a top recruit, and your expectation is to play then,” Bulldogs wide receiver Mecole Hardman said. “But you got to wait for your time, your turn. … Sometimes you get frustrated, it’s a long season. And we kept his head good.”
Those grievances didn’t stay with Fields all season. He acknowledged that his frustrations had stemmed from a selfish standpoint.
“I was thinking about me too much,” Fields said.
After that realization, his demeanor, his approach, it all changed. He learned to see his new role as “a blessing in disguise.” He sat back and took as much in as possible. With a guy like Fromm in the quarterback room, he saw a tremendous opportunity for growth.
“I ask him questions about the defenses, the plays,” Fields said. “(Jake’s) probably the smartest quarterback I’ve been around in my whole life.”
After all this, the biggest play of Georgia’s season actually came down to Fields, not Fromm. On fourth-and-11 with the score tied at 28-28 late in the fourth quarter, the Bulldogs snapped the ball directly to Fields out of a punt formation looking to catch Alabama off guard. The play wasn’t there as Georgia had hoped, and Fields gained only two yards to give Alabama the ball at midfield and a short drive that it ultimately won the game on.
While that was a huge part of what cost Georgia the game, it was a weird affirmation for Fields. It showed the amount of trust the coaches had in him, that when an opportunity does come Fields’ way, the staff will have no loss in faith.