Chase Young encouraged Justin Fields to be vocal leader Ohio State football needed QB to be

Joey Kaufman
Justin Fields and Chase Young celebrate with Tyreke Smith after Ohio State's 34-21 win over Wisconsin in the Big Ten championship game last Saturday. [Adam Cairns/Dispatch]

NEW YORK — Chase Young took aside Justin Fields during a spring practice at Ohio State this year.

It was for some encouragement.

Young recognized that Fields, who had recently transferred from Georgia, was too reserved among newer teammates.

“Going from a big-time program to the next, I know it's probably nerve-wracking,” Young said. “You don't know if the players on the team might respect you. But I told him, 'Everybody on the team respects you. We're going to need you to lead the team to where we want to get.'

“I said, 'If you have any problems, just let me know, but you got to be that guy for us.'”

There was reason for Young, the Buckeyes' star pass rusher, to be optimistic. Although Fields was to be a first-time starting quarterback in college, he formed a good first impression in winter workouts, a series of strength and conditioning drills.

His work ethic, as much as his pedigree as a former top-ranked high school recruit, left Young as an early believer.

“It was the first workout, and he was first in everything, beating everyone in every drill,” Young said. “I knew he had it in him. I just tried my best, as his teammate, to bring it out of him every day.”

Fields rewarded Young's faith. He grew more comfortable in his new surroundings and commanded the Buckeyes to an unbeaten regular season and a return to the College Football Playoff.

The efforts brought them to New York this weekend as Heisman Trophy finalists, along with quarterbacks Joe Burrow of LSU and Jalen Hurts of Oklahoma.

It is the first time that one team has had an offensive and defensive player at the ceremony since finalists were first invited in 1982.

“That's one special thing not many guys get to share,” Fields said.

As Fields recalled his early conversation with Young from spring practice, he remarked that it was an exchange that “helped me out a lot.”

“Just gaining the respect of your teammates, that's kind of what I was looking to it as,” Fields said. “They are looking for a leader.”

To make a larger demonstration, Young made the point in earshot of Fields' family members, who were attending the practice.

The moment stood out to them, especially Fields' father, Pablo.

“He was kind of just saying, 'You be our leader,'” Pablo said. “And I thought, dang, that's crazy.”

It mirrored other conversations with people around the program.

At an earlier point during winter workouts, running backs coach Tony Alford spoke with Pablo Fields and asked if he could encourage his son to take on a larger vocal leadership role on the team.

“Justin was just putting his head down and working,” Pablo said, 'I'll show you my work. I won't show you my words. I'll show you my work.'”

But Young's conversation with Fields was a notable step because it came from someone in the locker room, one of the Buckeyes' best players, and as a junior, also one of their more experienced stars.

“It's real cool to see how much he's grown,” Young said.

The two spent most of this week together on the awards circuit, including a trip Thursday night for the college football awards ceremony in Atlanta. They flew to New York on Friday for Heisman Trophy festivities, followed by the ceremony on Saturday.

Neither is expected to win the award, as Burrow sits as the heavy favorite.

But the tandem that has fueled Ohio State's success this season will return to Columbus next week in pursuit of more postseason hardware.

Practices will begin for their playoff semifinal matchup with Clemson.

Both will need to lead the Buckeyes.


Dispatch Reporter Bill Rabinowitz contributed to this story.

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