Initially, when Justin Fields passed through the transfer portal and materialized here, 560 miles north of his Georgia home, something vaguely resembling doubt smuggled a ride. And wasn’t that something entirely new, because here is someone who definitely doesn’t do doubt.
When in January Fields decided to leave Georgia for Ohio State, seeking a place of his own to quarterback, out of the orbit of Jake Fromm, it was big news for both programs. In fact, the ripples of the transfer spread across a great expanse of college football, because no one was a bigger quarterback recruit than Fields coming out of Harrison High. And, yet, for all that, Fields momentarily was gnawed by the thought: Maybe I should just turn around and re-enroll at Georgia.
Wouldn’t that have been one vertigo-inducing development?
“It was rough at first, just coming here,” his father, Ivant “Pablo” Fields said Saturday morning, in advance of Ohio State’s resounding 38-7 victory over Wisconsin.
He would spend more time with his son this spring than he did the year before, when his boy was just 70 miles from their Kennesaw home. He witnessed Justin struggle with a severe bout of homesickness, thrown into a program of strangers far from the comfort of Georgia teammates he had practically grown up with. And he just kept counseling his boy to be patient.
“It took about three weeks to get over it,” Justin recalled Saturday. “I called my dad and was actually contemplating going back to Georgia. I just prayed and trusted in the Lord and that helped me through. It was a tough time. I was just trying to hang out with the guys as much as possible, that’s when I settled in and got comfortable.”
Looking at what Fields has wrought in leading the 8-0 Buckeyes to a No. 3 ranking while inserting himself on the fringes of the Heisman Trophy conversation, a person might think his assimilation here was simple and easy from the jump. A person would be wrong.
But it got much better, quite quickly. For Fields is The Man at The Ohio State.
“He is where he’s supposed to be, I really believe that,” Pablo Fields said.
“And,” he added, lest you believe his season at Georgia was one big miscalculation, “I think he was where he was supposed to be last year.”
In this most recent stop on the Justin Fields Won’t Sit Behind Anybody Tour, the Buckeyes overwhelmed Wisconsin around a voracious defense and J.K. Dobbins’ 163 rushing yards and some rather gritty play from their quarterback who was formerly most famous for his flash.
Saturday was supposed to be one of the first real tests for Fields and the Ohio State offense, colliding with a Wisconsin defense ranked first in the country in total and scoring defense. And here, in the kind of rainy pall that so often wraps football in this part of the world in a cliche gray, a rather lopsided victory ensued.
“I think in all honestly we could have put up 50 if the weather was different,” Fields said. “I think we could have put the ball up more and put up way more points than we did.”
As mentioned, the young man is not prone to doubt.
As much as the Buckeyes offense showed Saturday, it was, for Fields, still not emblematic of the kind of show he has put on for the first half of the season. Entering the day, he had thrown and rushed for a total of 30 touchdowns in seven games. He was No. 4 in the nation in passing efficiency and fifth in the country in touchdown passes (22).
You see, the bit player at Georgia, last seen running a poorly conceived and executed punt fake on fourth-and-11 in an SEC Championship game, is now just a little short of a sensation.
Against Wisconsin, in the elements, he was 12-of-22 passing for 167 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions.
His defining moment of the day came when Wisconsin, set up at the Buckeyes 23 after partially blocking a punt, scored three minutes into the second half and cut Ohio State’s lead to 10-7.
In eight plays, the Buckeyes responded, Fields driving the offense 75 yards, converting on one third-down pass and covering the final 10 yards himself on a clever sprint to his left.
“Our motto on offense is: Nobody can stop us except us,” Fields said. “We knew what we had to do out there. We weren’t worried at all, just had to go out and execute the play and everybody do their job.”
No doubt. Just leadership. And the will to stand up to a Wisconsin defense that put up five sacks and sent Fields briefly to the triage tent on the Buckeyes’ sideline.
“I thought (Fields) played a tough game,” Ohio State coach Ryan Day said. “It may not show statistically that he had as gritty a game as anybody on our team. He got banged out there. He had to make tough runs against one of the best rushing defenses in America.
“He was physical. He was powerful. He kept third downs alive. I thought he played really well in this game and he played tough.”
Where Fields finds himself now, instead of a Dawg Walk to start the game, he is at the heart of a long pregame walk from a neighboring hotel, that pauses in an arena where the band plays and the good people in scarlet and gray hold their pregame worship service before the players finally make their way to the locker room.
And at the end of the game, now the young man from Georgia joins others from elsewhere to sing “Carmen Ohio” before leaving the field. These words among others a one-time Bulldog now belts out: “These jolly days of priceless worth, by far the gladdest days on earth, soon will pass and we not know how dearly we love Ohio.”
“First you have to learn the song,” Fields said. “I think it definitely comes natural now, because we win (and sing) a lot.”
There is something different about the football culture here as opposed to the South, Fields said. A vaguely alternate vibe that he just can’t find a way to describe.
But out in the parking lots here, the army of tailgaters possess a set of expectations shared by anyone with a favorite school and a player such as this.
Beside his tricked out converted ambulance, the one listing Ohio State’s six Heisman winners on one door, Dominic Bagnoli of Hartsville, Ohio, projects: “At the quarterback position you have to have the physical ability. A lot of guys do, but I think he has something special beyond that. He could be on that door eventually.”
Another among the sea of revelers, his name Dave Blasko of Youngstown, Ohio, is quite thankful Georgia chose the starter it did. “We got the best of that transaction,” he said, “especially after watching Fromm last week (throw for 35 yards against Kentucky).”
At his new address, Fields certainly has benefited from the Ohio State system under coach Ryan Day, one that allows Fields to explore his diverse gifts. “I can just see the respect Justin has for (Day), the wow factor. ‘Man, coach Day, he’s smart’ - he always says that,” Pedro Fields said.
Back home, his coach at Harrison, Matt Dickmann, expresses no surprise at what Fields has done here, without a hiccup. It all seems so familiar. “It looks like to me he stepped off the high school field – the way he was running, throwing, everything he was doing – and stepped right onto the field at Ohio State and began doing the same things,” Dickmann said.
Fields’ time at Georgia was fleeting and ultimately unfulfilling. His transfer and immediate eligibility at Ohio State was granted after reports of a racist comment in the stands from a Bulldogs baseball player who was immediately dismissed.
When he looks back, Fields was asked Saturday, how then would he would file away his one season at Georgia? It’s a weighty question for a postgame setting, but one he approaches from the high road.
“Georgia was great,” Fields said. “I built a lot of relationships there, a lot of friendships. I’m not really trying to file it away. It’s definitely a part of my life. I’ll remember it for the rest of my life. I think it was just great being there, it made me the man I am today. I’m grateful I got to spend that one year there.”
These are such good days at Ohio State that there is little motive for anyone in the Fields family to look back in disappointment now.
Asked if he was tempted to say, “Look at what you’re missing out on, Georgia,” Pablo Fields responded:
“No. I’m a man of faith. I believe he was supposed to be at Georgia, and I believe he is supposed to be here. I believe with all my heart he was supposed to go to Georgia, he was supposed to go through that adversity.
“If you see anybody who’s successful, they went through something. Go back through their lives, they go through something, and I’m so glad he went through that. I’m grateful. Not sorry. Not like, ‘Oh, if we could go back in time and change schools where he committed.’ He had a great time at Georgia, made good friends, became a great football player, went up against Kirby Smart’s defense every day. I don’t have any remorse about where he went or what he went though.”
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