THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. – Toward the end of Justin Fields‘ sophomore year at Harrison High School in Kennesaw, Georgia, he and his father wanted to take a recruiting visit to Tennessee. Ivan Fields called the Volunteers’ director of on-campus recruiting, who viewed Fields’ film, questioned his height and finally asked, “Are we even recruiting you guys?” Ivan and Justin Fields ended up begging to get into a Tennessee game that year, but didn’t exactly receive Southern hospitality. “They barely shook our hand,” Ivan Fields said, “and didn’t know who we were.”
Less than two years later, Justin Fields has emerged as the biggest name in high school recruiting, drawing comparisons to an embryotic Cam Newton. He’s the top uncommitted quarterback according to Rivals.com, choosing between bluebloods like Georgia, Florida State, Auburn and Alabama. Multiple MLB scouts told Yahoo Sports that he has the talent to be a first-round pick in baseball and will make a decision over the next few months as to what extent he’ll pursue that sport.
And yes, Tennessee coaches know who he is these days, as the entire coaching staff greeted the Fields family at their car on a visit during his junior year. “A lot of things changed,” Ivan Fields said, “very quickly.”
At the QB Collective earlier this month, about 30 of the country’s top quarterbacks gathered from around the country for a free camp taught by NFL coaches. No quarterback flashed more talent and potential than Fields. Physically, he’s 6-foot-3, 220 pounds and has the burst and athleticism of a prototype dual-threat quarterback. Mentally, he blew away NFL coaches with his ability to digest schemes and execute complex on-field instruction the first time he heard it. (He has a 3.9 grade-point average, scored a 29 on the ACT and got heavily recruited by Harvard.) Perhaps the highest compliment came from the way he threw the ball, as one counselor noticed Fields’ passes could be identified by sound. The ball actually whistled when he threw it.
“He’s a physical specimen,” said Matt LaFleur, the Los Angeles Rams offensive coordinator. “He has the height and strength and the ball just rips out of his hand. It’s not a surprise to me [he’s ranked so highly]; he definitely has the talent you look for in a top-tier quarterback.”
Fields enters his senior season at an athletic crossroads, with a resplendent future in both football and baseball dangling in front of him. He has a few options. He can commit to play college football, enroll early and compete for the starting job at a perennial power. He can also stick around at Harrison High School, play shortstop in the spring and attempt to get drafted in baseball. A decision on early enrollment looms in the next few months, as heading to college early would eliminate him from the 2018 MLB draft. (Draft rules require a prospect “have graduated from high school and have not yet attended college.”) Another option is attempting to become the rare dual-sport college athlete, playing baseball in the spring to keep his skills sharp.
Fields told Yahoo Sports he prefers football but may still be open to see how baseball works out for him. He watches so little baseball that he joked he could only identify two players in the recent All-Star Home Run Derby.
“I haven’t decided,” he said about enrolling early. “That’s what they say [about being drafted high]. That’s why I think about playing baseball. I don’t put in extra work for baseball. Football is my first love. I’m playing it and seeing how it works out for me.”
Ivan Fields points out that a lot of Hall of Fame baseball players grew up with football as their first love, including Rickey Henderson. He loves the position his son is in, keeping his options open in both sports.
“You always have to keep that door open,” Ivan Fields said of his son’s baseball options. “You can’t shut it and say, football, football, football. That’s what I love right now.” He later added: “I mean honestly and being transparent, it may come down to money for him. That’s a decision that he’s going to have to make.”
Through all the attention that comes with being courted by football bluebloods, Fields has remained grounded. Ivan Fields credits his own wayward athletic path for shaping his son’s linear one. Ivan Fields starred at Atherton High School in Louisville and played for Roy Kidd at Eastern Kentucky in the early 1980s. “I got kicked out in 1985,” Ivan Fields said. “Bad choices and things of that nature. Not anyone’s fault but my own.”
Ivan Fields went on to become a police office for 27 years, including 23 in Atlanta. (He’s still a Louisville athletics “fanatic,” but jokes he failed to convert his children.) Ivan Fields now works as a school policeman at Harrison High School, where Justin and his sister, Jaiden, attend. (Jaiden Fields is committed to play softball at Georgia.)
Ivan Fields made sure Justin didn’t make the same mistakes he did, as he kept him focused in the classroom and jokes about paying a lot of private athletic tutors to hone his baseball and quarterbacking skills. He also credits Justin’s birth mom, Gina Tobey, and stepmom, JoAnn Fields, for raising him right. “He’s got two really great women in his life who shape him and mold him,” Ivan Fields said.
Where will Fields end up? That’s one of the most compelling questions hanging over college athletics since he de-committed from Penn State in June. Fields’ stock has risen so much this summer that some recruiting services have ranked him the No. 1 overall player in the country.
But there’s still baseball. One southern-based MLB scout told Yahoo Sports’ Jeff Passan that it’s unlikely Fields ends up in baseball because he’s dedicated so little of his time to the sport. That means it’s unlikely a team will use a high draft choice on him.
“Similar situation as Jameis Winston when he was in high school,” the scout noted. “He’s a better overall athlete and runner for sure, but [Fields’] baseball skills are behind due to all the time he gives to football.”
Fields jokes that the football recruiting attention, especially the interviews, becomes repetitive. Even his high school teachers are lobbying him to go to different schools. There’s no concrete timetable on when an answer will come, as Ivan Fields said his son’s “heart” will have as much to do with his decision as logic.
Ivan Fields wants Justin to wait a few weeks into the season to pick a football destination. He points to Hugh Freeze’s sudden resignation at Ole Miss as a sign of how quickly programs can pivot.
“It could be tomorrow or it could be on signing day,” Ivan Fields said. “You never know what may happen in a college decision. The head decision would be the later the better. The heart decision could come at any time.”
In less than two years, Justin Fields has gone from begging to go on recruiting trips to the country’s top programs begging him to be their quarterback of the future. Big decisions on a college and sporting path loom, and he’ll remain a focal point on the recruiting landscape until they’re made.
“He has two options,” said Ron Veal, his long-time private quarterback coach. “I’m telling him to play them out and go from there and enjoy the ride. If he sits back and enjoys this, he can tell his kids about this for the rest of his life.”
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