COLUMBUS — Justin Fields knows all about heat. He grew up in Georgia.
But the pressure cooker in which the celebrated high school quarterback now finds himself is about to get turned up.
The pressure is always crushing on anyone who starts at quarterback for Ohio State. But Fields, who transferred from Georgia last winter, is expected to pick up where record-breaking Heisman Trophy candidate and first-round NFL Draft pick Dwayne Haskins Jr. left off.
Fields, a 20-year-old sophomore, has never started a college game. He saw only limited playing time in his freshman season, mostly in mop-up duty behind Jake Fromm.
He comes to Ohio State with great expectations and great hype. He was one of the highest-rated high school prospects at any position in 2018. He is said to have nearly the arm that Haskins does but with the speed and elusiveness his predecessor lacks.
New Ohio State coach Ryan Day is the first to note Fields must still earn the starting job. But that’s really just a formality.
“Physically, he checks all the boxes — running, athleticism, size, power, throwing ability, arm strength, accuracy, intelligence,” Day said. “He has all those things. Now it’s just a matter in August of putting it on the field and seeing what kind of product we have.
“But in order to learn, you have to fail. Unfortunately, we don’t have the luxury of failing a lot in practice and spending a few years as an understudy. Some of those failures are going to happen in a game, and there’s going to be a lot of deep breaths.”
In the months after spring practice, Fields put in his work. He threw with his receivers nearly every day.
“Right when you come into a new place you can’t just come in and just act like you’re a leader,” he said. “You have to kind of get used to the guys and build relationships with them so they trust you. Then you can step out and become a leader.”
Austin Mack is expected to be one of Fields’ top targets. He also has something to prove after missing the final six games last year with a foot injury. He was hurt in the upset loss to unranked Purdue, a defeat that kept the Buckeyes out of the playoffs.
Mack said he and fellow senior receivers K.J. Hill and Binjimen Victor have taken it upon themselves to help the new guy get up to speed.
“He came from Georgia so he came from a good program that’s used to winning,” Mack said. “He’s been there, he knows what it’s like. He just doesn’t know our culture. So the biggest thing for us is to help get him acclimated, get him used to being in that huddle. Like, ‘Hey, bro, speak up, you’re good, take control.’”
Fields symbolizes the new normal for college football, with the transfer portal providing a way out for impatient players who don’t want to wait to play.
Tate Martell had been behind Haskins but transferred to Miami after Fields arrived. After spring practice, quarterback Matthew Baldwin left for TCU.
At Georgia, Fields was the target of a racist comment from the stands. That may have helped his argument for immediate NCAA eligibility. Typically, a player has to sit out a season.
He calls the move to Ohio State a “business decision” that allows him to play for Day, who helped develop Haskins into an NFL Draft pick.
The backup is expected to be Gunnar Hoak, who played at Kentucky and also came via the transfer portal as a graduate student.
Fields says he’s ready to handle the spotlight. He basked in it as a five-star recruit in high school while taking part in the Netflix documentary series “QB1: Beyond the Lights.”
“You’ve just got to embrace it,” he said. “All this hype and all that, you just got to back it up, not let everything get to your head.”
Buckeye Nation will be waiting. And not so patiently.
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- Ohio State: Projected backup QB Matthew Baldwin says he will transfer
- Ohio State spring game: Coach Ryan Day says there is a QB competition despite hype surrounding Georgia transfer Justin Fields
- QB Tate Martell says he is leaving Ohio State for Miami
- Ohio State quarterback Dwayne Haskins declares for NFL draft