Sitting in the Georgia football offices on Dec. 3, Kirby Smart was flush with the afterglow of a Southeastern Conference championship the night before. But with an early signing date coming in just 17 days, and knowing who was likely to join his roster in 2018, Smart couldn’t help but think ahead to the best problem a coach can have.
Too many quality quarterbacks.
“It could be a tough situation,” Smart said. “But managing that situation is what they pay you to do.”
“That situation” became reality Wednesday shortly after noon at Harrison High School in Kennesaw, Georgia, when Justin Fields put on a Bulldogs visor and signed his National Letter of Intent to play for Georgia. Fields is rated the No. 2 overall player in the class of 2018 by Rivals.com, behind another quarterback, Trevor Lawrence, who signed with Clemson. But some recruiting services now have Fields No. 1, after a spectacular summer.
Plenty of coaches and quarterback gurus think Fields has the tools to play right away in the Southeastern Conference. “He’ll be ready when his name is called,” said Chandler Whitmer, who worked with Fields individually and as a staffer at the Quarterback Collective Camp last summer.
But Smart has a current true freshman quarterback who led Georgia to the SEC championship and a berth in the College Football Playoff. Jake Fromm was the No. 6 quarterback in the nation in pass efficiency and led the SEC in that category. He’s thrown 21 touchdowns and just five interceptions this season and was fantastic in the league championship game against Auburn. If Fromm maintains his current 168.2 passer rating though the playoff, it would be the highest by a freshman since Ohio State’s J.T. Barrett recorded a 169.8 in 2014.
And then there is the guy who unexpectedly became Fromm’s backup this season, Jacob Eason. He was a five-star recruit and Rivals’ No. 1 quarterback nationally when he arrived at Georgia in 2016. Eason started as a freshman and began this season as the Bulldogs’ starter, but a tweaked knee gave Fromm an opportunity that he never relinquished.
So now Smart has three five-star QBs on his hands, two with college starting experience and a third who many people think is a star waiting to blow up when he walks on campus. Which prompts a lot of questions.
Is there any way Smart could start his head-coaching career with three different freshman starting quarterbacks in his first three years?
After leading Georgia to the playoff — and possibly to a national title — is there any way Fromm isn’t the starter next season?
After being evaluated as a guy who can play right away at the highest level of college football, is there any way Fields would relent to a redshirt year?
After starting 14 games at Georgia and being recruited by everyone out of high school, is there any way Eason would submit to being a third-stringer as a junior?
The answers to all those questions would seem to be no. Which means something would have to give, most likely a transfer, and mostly likely by Eason. But maybe all three could coexist like Ohio State 2015, when Urban Meyer juggled Barrett, Cardale Jones and Braxton Miller — admittedly an easier task when Miller moved to wide receiver, which isn’t expected from anyone at Georgia.
We’ll see how it all plays out after this season is over and everyone turns the page to 2018. In the here and now, the Bulldogs can celebrate a powerhouse recruiting class – now the No. 1 recruiting class in the nation, per Rivals – that should accelerate the program’s upward trajectory. And the crown jewel of the class is Fields.
He was not an identified-at-puberty phenom. Fields was an excellent athlete who also loved baseball, and it wasn’t until he curtailed his traveling baseball commitment and started growing that his football fortune began to change. That was in the latter stages of his sophomore year of high school.
“He was hoping to get an offer at Mercer or something,” Whitmer said of Fields. “How he’s blown up since then, it’s been quite a ride.”
Said Ron Veal, a former Arizona quarterback who has worked with Fields since Justin was in sixth grade: “Once he hit his growth spurt, everything changed.”
Now 6-foot-3 and about 220 pounds, Fields is a dual-threat talent with both a strong and accurate arm. But the area that draws the most praise is his mind.
“He can process information quickly,” Veal said. “He learns quick. He has a high maturity level at 18, and he has the tools to make it. The sky’s the limit for him.”
But while most of the nation has been busy parsing Fields’ talents and predicting how he will fit in at Georgia, he was surrounded by family members Wednesday at Harrison High who had other things on their mind. Justin Fields isn’t a commodity to them; he’s kin.
For Fields’ dad, Pablo, it was a bittersweet day. His oldest son is making another step toward adulthood, toward his own life and a future of his making. Pablo’s pride was mixed with protectiveness.
“It’s a success just to get an offer, get a scholarship and get your education paid for,” Pablo Fields said. “But sometimes social media makes it something else — you go here and don’t succeed, you’re a failure. But it’s a good day. It’s a blessing to sign those papers.”
Growing up in a single-parent family in Louisville, Kentucky, Pablo said he was “lacking a lot of things as a man.” Among those things was an attention to academics. He went on to play linebacker at FCS power Eastern Kentucky for legendary coach Roy Kidd thinking he might make it to the NFL. When that didn’t pan out, Pablo discovered the need for a fallback and got a degree in criminal justice.
Now an Atlanta police officer, he sees other young men drifting without guidance on a daily basis. With that and his own upbringing as context, he drilled accountability and discipline into Justin from a young age. That’s one reason why Justin is carrying a 3.9 grade-point average.
Pablo Fields also told Justin to choose a school where he would be happy if he never played a down of football. Georgia was that place, and Justin committed there in early October — a month into Fromm’s tenure as the starting quarterback. Since then Fromm’s grip on the position has strengthened, which prompted some speculation that Fields might opt elsewhere.
Never happened. He is undeterred.
“Go where you want to go,” Pablo Fields said. “I think you get into a Pandora’s Box if you get to looking at depth charts. Go where your heart tells you and let the chips fall where they may. Iron sharpens iron. When you’re in a competitive battle, that will make you better.”
Justin Fields’ signed letter should make Georgia football better. It’s simply up to Kirby Smart to figure out how to manage his overabundance of quarterbacks.
Related video from Yahoo Sports:
More from Yahoo Sports:
• Lawsuit claims USA Gymnastics paid McKayla Maroney hush money
• Turkish government seeks 4-year prison term for NBA star
• Patriots boot Brady’s longtime trainer from sideline
• NBA icons end decades-long beef in emotional moment