Looking Back At Justin Fields’ Whirlwind Recruitment By Penn State
When Penn State football’s defense takes the field for the first time against No. 2 Ohio State on Saturday, it’ll line up against an offense led by a very familiar face.
Starting quarterback Justin Fields transferred from Georgia to play for Ryan Day’s squad prior to the 2019 season, and he was granted immediate eligibility for the Buckeyes after receiving a hardship waiver from the NCAA. Before he signed on to play for Kirby Smart and the Bulldogs, Fields had been a longtime Penn State commit and one of two five-star prospects poised to headline James Franklin’s recruiting class of 2018.
“Obviously, we were involved with him early and had a significant relationship for a long time,” Franklin recalled. “Very talented guy. You come up with your list of things that you’re looking for in terms of characteristics: height, weight, speed, intelligence, release, accuracy, touchdown-to-interception ratio, win/loss percentage. Watching him in games, watching him in practice, throwing live. He checked a lot of boxes.
“Based on what I’m seeing on film right now, I think we were right. He’s pretty good.”
In honor of this beautiful throwback Thursday, let’s take a trip down memory lane and reflect on Fields’ whirlwind journey as a high school star.
Justin Fields’ long association with Penn State football officially kicked off on July 17, 2016. The dual-threat quarterback attended a camp at Penn State and received his official offer from the university — his 12th from a Division I team. At the time, teams like West Virginia, Vanderbilt, and Appalachian State headlined Fields’ list of offers, but that would soon change.
Fields would end that offseason with two more offers from Tennessee and Virginia Tech, but he took an unofficial visit to Happy Valley on September 3. He was one of many recruits in attendance to watch the Trace McSorley-led Nittany Lions take down Kent State 33-13.
As the season progressed, Fields took visits to programs like Tennessee and Louisville along with another visit to Penn State’s 41-14 beatdown of Iowa on November 5. Georgia entered the battleground that Fields’ recruitment had quickly become on November 12 before officially offering the quarterback six days later. However, the then-high school junior believed he was ready to make his verbal pledge.
Fields committed to Penn State on December 1 — days before the team would win the Big Ten championship game in Indianapolis. It was obviously very early in the recruiting process, but Fields’ decision boosted Penn State’s 2018 recruiting class’s ranking to No. 1 in the nation.
The Kennesaw, Georgia product was a four-star dual-threat prospect at the time of his commitment, but few could’ve predicted the signal-caller’s meteoric rise into recruiting stardom.
2017 proved to be a wild year for Justin Fields, and it got started with a bang.
As his reputation as a blue-chip prospect in every sense of the term settled in, Fields’ list of offers welcomed some of college football’s top suitors. Oregon and Alabama both sent the Penn State commit offers on February 1, and they were shortly followed by Florida and Florida State. The Gators offered the quarterback two days after he was named an MVP of The Opening Regional in Orlando.
Fields took an unofficial visit to Happy Valley for the 2017 Blue-White game, but things quickly turned shaky in his recruitment. A bit of Twitter beef between then-commit Ricky Slade and Iverson Clement, a four-star running back committed to Florida at the time, foreshadowed a bit of unrest in Fields’ commitment.
That bit of bickering on Twitter was quickly followed by a huge announcement from Fields. He decommitted from the Nittany Lions and re-opened his recruitment, which Penn State was allegedly still a top contender in. Fields’ mother and high school coach later revealed that the uncertainty surrounding then-offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead’s future in Happy Valley was one reason why he decommitted.
Florida was considered the favorite to land his verbal pledge and eventual signature on his national letter of intent following the decommitment, which drew a fairly large reaction from Penn Staters.
Whether it was the reactions of then-Penn State commits or diehard fans, news of Fields’ decommitment sent Twitter into a frenzied panic. Fans pleaded for Fields to re-commit to Penn State, but his decision clearly stung a few then-recruits:
Jesse Luketa — a current backup linebacker for the Nittany Lions — delivered a seemingly-optimistic message following Fields’ decision.
Elsewhere, current Penn State offensive lineman Nana Asiedu, defensive lineman Fred Hansard, and Isaiah Humphries — a safety who transferred to Cal after beginning his college career in Happy Valley — showed their support for Fields.
The thing that made Fields’ decommitment such a big blow to Penn State was Micah Parsons’ decision to go back on his Penn State pledge a couple months earlier. The then-five-star defensive lineman’s recruitment, however was a much more well-documented circus than Fields’ was.
That, of course, ended up not mattering because of his eventual decision to sign on with James Franklin’s program. However, he was fully behind the signal-caller’s decision at the time.
“You know, we almost went to the same school, twice,” Parsons recalled after the Nittany Lions beat Indiana 34-27 on Saturday. “Penn State and Georgia.”
The final nail in Penn State’s coffin was Fields’ commitment to Georgia on October 6 — exactly four months after he went back on his Penn State choice. He went onto sign his National Letter of Intent with the Bulldogs, so his collegiate career officially, finally kicked off in Athens.
Although Justin Fields’ horrible, no-good, very bad fake punt in last year’s SEC title game will serve as the lasting image of his time as a Bulldog, it’s safe to say the quarterback is beginning to realize his potential.
Fields transferred away from Georgia and joined Ohio State following the Dawgs’ losses to Alabama and Texas in the conference title game and Sugar Bowl, respectively. He sought a hardship waiver for immediate eligibility after a member of the school’s baseball team directed a racial slur at Fields during a Georgia football game.
Sasser was dismissed from the baseball team as a result, and Fields was granted the waiver later in the offseason. He’s definitely made the most of his immediate eligibility in 2019.
Ohio State is 10-0 in no small part thanks to Fields’ incredible play. He’s completed 69.1% of his passes for 2,164 yard and 31 touchdowns against just one interception. Fields has also added 377 yards and 10 touchdowns on 84 rushing attempts so far this season, and Penn State knows exactly what type of challenge it’s facing.
“I think [Saturday’s game] is going to be speed-on-speed,” Parsons said. “I think we got one of the fastest defenses in the country, and they got one of the fastest and most explosive offenses in the country. Whoever is going to be able to limit the other one is going to win.
“If Justin Fields goes out there really making a lot of plays, then obviously, we’re going to be in trouble. If we can limit Justin Fields and contain him, I think we’ll be alright.”
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About the Author
THON 2020 unveiled its “Journey Together” logo Sunday afternoon, but we’ve added a extra detail to the graphic.
Bryce Jordan Stevenson is a Penn State junior whose name may or may not sound a bit familiar to you.
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