There was no breathless celebratory phone call. In fact, no phone call at all. Just one simple emoji.
When Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields was announced as a Heisman Trophy finalist on Monday, his response to his father’s congratulatory text message was in character.
“He sent me a fist bump back,” Pablo Fields said Tuesday.
That’s all. And then they moved on to more pressing things.
“We talked about what he's getting his sisters for Christmas,” Pablo said. “That's it. That’s how he is. It would sound like we're not close, but that's how Justin is, especially with awards. Justin is a different animal.”
Last week when they talked, Pablo said, Fields neglected to tell him that he’d been named Big Ten offensive player of the year. Pablo was stunned to learn the news on Big Ten Network.
After the Big Ten championship game victory Saturday over Wisconsin, Fields was asked about the Heisman.
“I’m not really worried about the Heisman right now,” he said. “I’m just worried about a win in these next two (College Football Playoff) games.”
It would be a shocking upset if Fields, Ohio State teammate Chase Young or Oklahoma quarterback Jalen Hurts were to win the Heisman instead of LSU quarterback Joe Burrow, the former Buckeye.
Heisman or not, Fields’ season has been brilliant. He has helped lead Ohio State to the playoff by throwing for 40 touchdowns and running for 10. Fields is completing 67.5 percent of his 308 passes. Only one has been intercepted.
Consider that a year ago Fields was a freshman backup at Georgia, and his story is even more remarkable. He entered the transfer portal late last December and enrolled at Ohio State in early January.
He knew first-year head coach Ryan Day a little from a last-ditch recruiting effort when Fields was the No. 2 overall prospect in the 2018 class. But Fields didn’t know the other coaches, his new teammates, the playbook, the university or Columbus.
Yet he was immediately thrust into the spotlight as the successor to Dwayne Haskins Jr., a Heisman finalist last year. It was a lot for a shy, homesick 19-year-old to handle, especially since there was no assurance that the NCAA would approve the transfer-waiver request to allow him to play without sitting out a year.
At first, Fields wanted to return to Georgia. He agreed to give it more time after a phone call with his dad. But it was a rough first few months. He returned home to Kennesaw often, or his father came to Columbus.
“I saw him more in the spring at Ohio State than I did at Georgia — to make him comfortable,” Pablo said.
Gradually, Fields felt at ease. But he remained a bit of a mystery. The talent was obvious. But he was careful not to step on toes, wanting to earn respect with work, not words.
What would he be like as a leader? What kind of growing pains would he endure?
The Buckeyes routed every opponent through 10 games, and it wouldn’t be until the tough season-ending stretch in which Fields played through a knee sprain that even Day got the true sense of his player’s mettle.
“I think his family has done a tremendous job of grounding him,” Day said. “He has a tremendous approach. He's humble. But deep inside there's a fiery, competitive dude in there who just tries to take your heart out when he's in the game.
“He's got an interesting demeanor about him — very smooth. You don't see much on the surface. But he's very, very competitive. That’s something I didn’t know about him until he started playing in these big games. Nothing but the utmost respect for him as a person, his character, his approach.”
Fields’ father has long known about Justin’s competitiveness. He helped ingrain it in him. Pablo refused to let his son beat him in anything.
When Justin was little, they’d compete to see who could fasten his seat belt faster. If Justin lost, he’d cry. Father and son used to race each other. Their last race was when Justin was about 10. Pablo won, but it was close enough that he knew Justin would probably beat him the next time.
“I was smart enough never to race him again,” Pablo said.
Now Pablo watches Justin play basketball against his 13-year-old sister with the same fierceness.
“I don’t want my 6-3, 235-pound boy posting up my baby girl and knocking her on the ground,” he said with a laugh. “But that’s just the cloth we’re cut from.”
Off the field, Fields may be low-key. On it, the fire burns. It earned him a trip to New York this weekend.
“He doesn't really get too high or too low,” Pablo said, “until he gets between those lines.”