The waiting game

Buckeyes, Fields bide time as NCAA decides QB's eligibility

Bill Rabinowitz
Buckeyes quarterback Justin Fields takes questions from media members at the Woody Hayes Athletic Center on Wednesday. He is attending classes and becoming acclimated to his new team after transferring from Georgia, but it isn't known when the NCAA will rule on his eligibility for the 2019 season. [Joshua A. Bickel/Dispatch]

Justin Fields doesn’t know whether he will be able to play football for Ohio State in 2019. But the quarterback is not spending much time feeling anxious about it.

Fields transferred to Ohio State in January after leaving Georgia. Now the player ranked No. 2 nationally in the 2018 recruiting class is waiting for the NCAA to decide whether it will waive the requirement that a transfer must sit out a year.

Most observers expect Fields to be granted the waiver. But it is not a sure thing.

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“Growing up, I’ve always learned to control the controllable,” Fields said Wednesday when he, early-enrollee freshmen and OSU’s new assistant coaches were made available to the media for the first time. “I know I can’t control what the NCAA decides, so my focus is just on this team and getting better. I mean, I don’t really know anything. I do hope I’m eligible to play this year. We’ll just see what happens.”

There is no predicting when the NCAA will decide. Fields’ attorney, Tom Mars, said this week that he thought it would be “soon,” but what that means is anyone’s guess.

“Generally, we’re hoping maybe in the next few weeks,” Ohio State coach Ryan Day said. “But, yeah, not really sure right now. (We’re) kind of holding our breath.”

So for now, Fields is attending classes and acclimating to both his new coaches and teammates and to the weather. Fields grew up in Kennesaw, Georgia, so this is his first taste of a cold winter.

“That’s been crazy,” he said. “I brought a lot of jackets up here with me, so I’ve kind of gotten used to the weather. In Georgia, I would say 45 is (considered) freezing, but when I get 45 here I’m like, ‘Thank you. Thank you, Lord.’ ”

Then again, Fields didn’t uproot because he was expecting balmy weather. He came to play under Day at an elite program. Coming to Columbus was a business decision. Fields is friends with Dwayne Haskins Jr. and he saw what Haskins did in his one season as a starter under Day, a former NFL assistant coach.

“He’s been in the NFL so he knows what it takes to get there,” Fields said. “The offense and how successful it was last year, I hope to … do the same thing he did.”

At Georgia, Fields was unable to unseat incumbent quarterback Jake Fromm, and his freshman season included an incident at a football game in which a Bulldogs baseball player yelled racial slurs at Fields.

Fields did not want to discuss his reasons for leaving Georgia.

“I really just want to keep my focus on Ohio State,” he said.

Fields is learning the playbook, and he said there are similarities to Georgia’s offense.

“Coach Day has a lot of plays what you would call pure-progression reads, which is kind of a 1-2-3-4 read,” he said. “Those to me are the easiest reads because you go across the board and read it like that. And the guys we have at wideout, they’re all great athletes and great players. I think that’ll definitely make my job easier.”

If Fields is allowed to play in 2019, he still must beat out redshirt freshman Matthew Baldwin.

“Coach Day didn’t promise me anything,” Fields said. “He told me I would have to come in and work for it. So I’m just looking forward to getting better.”

The true test won’t come until at least spring practice, but so far Fields has made a strong first impression.

“Justin is a great fit for a lot of reasons,” Day said. “We’re excited about him.”


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