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Football: Justin Fields brings dynamic potential to Ohio State offense

Then-Georgia quarterback Justin Fields (1) completes a first-down pass in the G-Day spring football game on April 21, 2018, at Sanford Stadium in Athens, Ga. Credit: Courtesy of TNS

Matt Dickmann, the head coach at Harrison High School in Kennesaw, Georgia, had a routine each Saturday during football season. An Ohio native and graduate of the University of Toledo, Dickmann watched Ohio State football, making the Buckeyes his No. 1 priority each game day.

But that was one of two football teams Dickmann followed each Saturday. While he watched Ohio State live, the head coach recorded the Georgia football game to watch his former starting quarterback.

Justin Fields’ time on the field at Georgia was consistent. The freshman played at least one snap in each of the Bulldogs’ games, giving Dickmann at least a few plays to watch each week.

Each snap the Kennesaw native took, his high school head coach had the same response.

“When he was in the game, he always moved the offense,” Dickmann said. “When he was in the game, he always excelled.”

It was typical Fields. And it was the Fields who decided to transfer to Ohio State after the 2018 season, becoming the highest-rated recruit in the history of the football program and, if eligible, the likely starting quarterback for the Buckeyes in 2019.

The expectation for Fields has been always extremely high, ever since his father, Pablo, sent his son’s middle-school highlights to the head coach at Harrison High School.

“I remember watching and saying, ‘Wow, this young man has a lot of potential to be a star,’” Dickmann said.

Potential is one thing. Dickmann said his priority with Fields was his development: growing him intellectually and physically, checking all of the boxes for him to become a Division I quarterback.

“That’s the thing about Justin,” Dickmann said. “He continued to grow each year and to the point where there really weren’t any weaknesses that he had by his junior. He was pretty special.”

The head coach said there are three things that each quarterback needs to have to be successful: intelligence, poise and articulation.

He found all three in Fields saying the quarterback made good decisions on the football field, learning from the few mistakes he made.

Physically, Fields also checked the necessary boxes as a strong, accurate dual-threat quarterback.

“He’s definitely a bruising runner, so I feel like he is one of those guys where, he is not like a Kyler Murray where he has to slide or anything like that … I have seen him lower his shoulder on a run when he didn’t even have to lower his shoulder,” Michael Hebert, the football beat reporter at the Red and Black, Georgia’s student newspaper, said. “He doesn’t avoid contact. He’s got a crazy good arm.”

Despite not playing for what Jake Reuse, a recruiting writer for UGASports.com, considered as a Georgia powerhouse in high school, Fields had a level of talent that Harrison High School had rarely seen.

And it was a talent Dickmann was eager to utilize.

Starting in Fields’ junior season, the Harrison High School head coach integrated a run-pass option into the team’s offense. He said it helped the quarterback and the rest of the offense become more explosive.

However, for Dickmann, this integration was more of a gamble than he would usually make with a high school quarterback.

“[Fields] made all the decisions,” Dickmann said. “I never told him when to throw it, when he wouldn’t throw it, when he would pull it, when he would give it. So those were decisions that we basically trained him from Day One that he was going to make.”

During the 2016 season, Fields threw for 2,770 yards and 23 touchdowns, completing 66.7 percent of his passes for the Hoyas, according to MaxPreps. He added 1,176 yards on the ground, averaging 6.2 yards per carry and 15 touchdowns.

This was the point where Fields’ recruitment became national, developing his ability as a passer and not just as a dual-threat athlete, something Reuse said would not have set him apart.

“That’s why he was so highly recruited is because you will get a lot of quarterbacks sometimes that may have this, that or the other,” Dickmann said. “But very rarely do they have all like he does.”

Fields committed to Penn State after the 2016 season, but later decommitted, setting his sights on Georgia, where he committed in December 2017.

However, Fields and his family did not want the recruitment of the No. 2 player in the 2018 class to become a spectacle. They decided to only do interviews with reporters about high school football and not his college decision prior to his senior season.

“If you want to write a book on how to handle recruiting and not to let it go to your head, Justin  would have a great chapter in that book,” Dickmann said.

The Harrison head coach said Fields was humble, never letting the national attention get to his head and did not become haughty toward the coaching staff or his teammates. He said all Fields wanted to do was go out and compete.

Entering Georgia as an early enrollee in January 2018, there was a bit of change for Fields.

“It was obviously a transition from being the most talked about high school player in the country to just another freshman,” Hebert said. “Obviously, the fan base and everyone else didn’t view him as another freshman. They viewed him as a guy that could eventually win the Heisman at some point for Georgia.”

In his first season with the Bulldogs, Fields completed 27-of-39 pass attempts for 328 passing yards and four touchdowns. On the ground, he added 266 yards, averaging 6.3 yards per carry and four touchdowns.

Without a direct path to the starting quarterback job at Georgia sitting behind Jake Fromm — the Georgia sophomore quarterback still had another year before he could enter the NFL Draft — Fields announced his intention to transfer, something Reuse said was not surprising after talking to the freshman quarterback after the 2018 SEC Championship.

“I think that people left that interview and left that SEC Championship game feeling like it was moving away from rumor and probably more into fact sooner rather than later,” Reuse said.  

With Fields linked to Ohio State well before his transfer was confirmed Jan. 4, redshirt freshman quarterback Tate Martell said head coach Ryan Day will bring an NFL-level offense to Ohio State.

Martell said it would be difficult for Fields to pick up in one offseason.

“It’s not something that you can just walk in and three months in, you think that, ‘I’m rolling now,’” Martell said. “It’s not that easy, I promise you.”

But Dickmann knows Day, who has recruited his players since he was a coach at Temple and Boston College. The newly named Ohio State head coach even went to Kennesaw to recruit Fields after the quarterback had committed to Georgia.

To the Harrison head coach, many of the concepts for Fields will be the same as it was when he was in high school.

“A lot of the stuff Ohio State does, zone read, we did, power read, we did, crossing routes, all the crossing routes and down the field because Justin has such a strong arm, play action, we did all that stuff,” Dickmann said. “The only difference is he is going to have to learn the terminology.”

Dickmann said according to Fields’ father, the quarterback is already doing well at picking up the nuances of the Ohio State offense and is spending a lot of time learning the playbook.

Reuse believes Fields is a dream for a first-year head coach, saying that Day has the opportunity to be creative and to utilize his new quarterback’s skill sets.

“I think he will be free to do the things he does best, which, like I said, [is] extending plays. But also the chance to get out there and whip it around, scramble away from a guy and really uncork a ball,” Reuse said. “It’s not exactly how Georgia does things, but I could see an offensive mind like Ryan Day putting that to good use.”

To Dickmann, Fields is more than just a quarterback or the No. 2 player in the 2018 recruiting class.

According to his high school head coach, Fields was a leader at Harrison, calling him a coach on the field. Fields was humble, always viewed as having a team-first mentality.

Dickmann said this was something that Ohio State can expect from its newest quarterback.

“He is a great person, he is a tremendous athlete, and he will do everything he can do for him and his teammates to be successful,” Dickmann said. “I think they are going to enjoy watching Justin Fields, and I think they are going to enjoy watching him as a person.”

As Fields prepares for the 2019 season at Ohio State, Dickmann can look forward to watching his favorite college football team and former star quarterback in one game as opposed to two.

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