Penn State quarterback commit Justin Fields is at the center of a closely monitored recruiting process. Considering the elevated level of coverage and general noise swirling around him, the 5-star prospect embraced an opportunity to focus solely on football Friday night.
Fields led Harrison (Kennesaw, Ga.) High School to explosive results during its spring game against Kennesaw Mountain High. He tallied 4 touchdowns — 3 passing, 1 rushing — in just one half of a 36-0 win.
Considered the nation’s No. 2 quarterback recruit in 247Sports’ 2018 composite rankings, Fields found new ways to amaze an audience that included media outlets and collegiate coaches. Our coverage team, led by SEC Country reporters Chris Kirschner and Jeff Sentell, was on the scene and documented this latest display of elite talent:
Kirschner caught up with Fields and his father, Ivant, after the game, relaying conversations that routinely focused on his recruitment.
“I think when you’re a young man, and you have your whole life, a lot of times you just second-guess whether this is the right decision and things of that nature,” Ivant Fields said. “We’re letting him work that out within himself. It’s part of being a man — evolving. He’s a young man on the brink of being a man, so he has to figure that out.”
Fields, a 6-foot-3, 221-pound playmaker, issued a verbal pledge to Penn State on Dec. 1, 2016. That announcement hasn’t prevented several powerhouse programs from entering the mix this offseason, and his offer sheet now features more than 40 universities.
His rise as a recruit coincides with extensive accolades. Fields received a bump to No. 5 overall in 247Sports’ most recent rankings. He also landed an invitation to the Elite 11 finals, a national quarterback showcase held June 2-4 in Los Angeles.
“[Fields has] the physical traits in terms of size and athleticism [4.51-second 40-yard dash] that gives some Deshaun Watson projectability in terms of play extension and big play potential,” 247Sports scouting director Barton Simmons wrote for a May 11 rankings reveal. “The more we’ve seen him, the more comfortable with him we are as a passer.”
Fields completed 67 percent of pass attempts for 2,770 yards and 23 touchdowns as a junior, according to MaxPreps. He also torched opponents for 1,176 yards and 15 scores on the ground.
Naturally, there’s an abundance of interest beyond Happy Valley. Coaches from Auburn, Florida, Georgia and LSU visited during a 72-hour span leading up to his spring game.
“They are just saying they can do big things with me at their school and can compete for a national championship,” Fields said. “A lot of these schools are telling me that I have the ability to play early there, too.”
Staff members from both Georgia and Penn State attended the matchup for a live look at this prized passer, according to Kirschner.
“It definitely has my mind spinning with all these schools coming at me,” Fields told Sentell on Friday. “But it is definitely just a great feeling to get this recognition from these schools. I’m actually seeing all this hard work pay off. It is great to see all these colleges come for me. That is really what I always wanted.”
Pressure to flip his commitment is constant, coming in the form of phone communication along with in-person visits.
While speaking with Sentell, he stated Georgia coach Kirby Smart is “keeping the pedal slammed down to the metal” in his push for a pledge, and various members of the Bulldogs staff routinely reach out via text messages. Fields portrayed a similar situation in regard to Florida during his discussion with Kirschner.
“At least five [Florida] coaches text me every day,” he said. “Coach Mac [Jim McElwain] probably texts me once every three days.”
The Gators may gain an edge among suitors due to a seemingly immediate need at quarterback.
Penn State starter Trace McSorley is eligible to return for a redshirt senior season in 2018, while rising redshirt sophomore Tommy Stevens consistently earned praise from coach James Franklin this spring, leading to offensive MVP honors in the spring game. The Nittany Lions welcome 4-star 2017 signee Sean Clifford, a 2016 Elite 11 finalist, to campus this summer.
LSU signed two Elite 11 finalists — Myles Brennan and Lowell Narcisse — in February. Former 5-star recruits Jacob Eason and Jake Fromm carry a combined seven seasons of collegiate eligibility at Georgia. The same can be said about Alabama’s tandem of surprise freshman sensation Jalen Hurts and 2016 Elite 11 MVP Tua Tagovailoa.
Florida, meanwhile, hasn’t featured a 2,000-yard passer since 2011. Tim Tebow is the last Gators quarterback to eclipse 20 touchdown tosses in a single season, in 2009.
Despite sustained offensive inconsistency, Florida reached the SEC Championship Game in each of McElwain’s first two campaigns.
“They’re mainly saying that they’re just looking for a quarterback,” Fields said. “They have all the pieces to the puzzle.”
Florida received the four most recent predictions for Fields’ eventual landing spot in the 247Sports crystal ball. Compared to other options, including Penn State, the Gators appear to present a clear and realistic path to early playing time.
“The most appealing thing at Florida is probably the quarterback room,” he said. “I guess you could say that would help them.”
While that might be enough to tempt other prospects, Fields understands the importance of patience for a player at his position.
Does a program’s depth chart matter? Sure.
But will it be the overriding determinant for this decision?
“Not really,” Fields said. “Because I know some great quarterbacks redshirted their freshman year just to learn the system and get a closer relationship with receivers. It’s not really a big factor.”
There are also a couple of wild-card elements in this recruitment.
- Fields’ sister, Jaiden, is verbally committed to play softball at Georgia.
- His prowess as a baseball prospect convinced several colleges to present a multi-sport opportunity, though he told Sentell his focus is on football at this stage.
For now, Fields remains comfortable with his Nittany Lions commitment. There’s a chance he may utilize official visits elsewhere this fall, but that outlook is still undetermined.
Fields traveled to Happy Valley for the spring game. He explored pregame festivities and soaked in the atmosphere — fueled by 71,000 fans — alongside 11 other Penn State pledges and a few priority Nittany Lions targets.
“I really just got to experience the fan base there,” Fields said. “They were awesome. The environment for a spring game was great. The fans were going crazy and that was definitely good to see for the other recruits. I think it had a big impact on them also.”
Our conversations with committed players April 22 and the weeks since indicate Fields is a viewed as a crucial, albeit reserved, leader of this class. Justin Shorter, a 4-star WR and the longest-standing member of Franklin’s 2018 prospect haul, addressed Fields’ recruitment and potential impact Sunday.
“I actually talked to him and he is going to stay with Penn State unless things change in the future,” Shorter said. “If Justin does come, it will be big for all of us. He’s just that dream quarterback everyone wants on their team, so it would be awesome.”
Fields’ future pass target is hardly alone in creating dialogue. The entire Nittany Lions class enjoys consistent communication.
“We have a group message, so we text every day,” Fields said. “We check with each other to see what’s going on in our lives, so we have a great relationship. We’re all close.”
Still undecided about whether he will partake in the newly instituted early signing period (Dec. 20-22), Fields continues to navigate the recruiting trail with an open mind. The search for an ideal school, which led him to Penn State more than six months ago, is about achieving balance.
“The most important factor is how well I fit in the academics, how the family environment is there and having a great relationship with [coaches],” Fields said.
His father, who frequently speaks with Franklin and Nittany Lions offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach Joe Moorhead, explained the final verdict is completely up to Fields.
“What’s been discussed is, ‘We’ll make it work whether you choose Penn State or California or whatever. It’s your life,’ ” Ivant said. “We’ll make it work as a family, somehow, some way. I will give him my opinion, but it’s basically on Justin.”