The first highlight tape had arrived before Justin Fields played a snap of high school football.
By the end of Fields’ sophomore season at Harrison High School (Kennesaw, Ga.), coach Matt Dickmann knew his squad’s offense was about to take things up a notch.
“Justin was in our middle school program, and they would play on Saturday mornings and afternoons, and I’d try to make it a point to go watch,” Dickmann told Lettermen Row this week. “I got to see Justin play a little bit, and his dad had made up a nice highlight tape for him.
“Justin’s freshman year, we had a good quarterback, Lorenzo Nunez, who was going to South Carolina. And Justin did a great job with the freshman. The next year, he was the starter for varsity.”
And Dickmann started to realize just how much more he could open up his offensive playbook for Fields, the former consensus five-star prospect who transferred from Georgia to Ohio State after last season and has positioned himself to potentially be the Buckeyes’ replacement for NFL first-rounder Dwayne Haskins.
“Every time we stared putting in new stuff, to start trying to build things around him as a sophomore, he just handled it,” Dickmann said. “The first time we put in a power-read play, he took it 60 yards to the house.
“The offseason after his sophomore year, we changed a lot of our concepts and went more to run-pass options, RPOs.”
As the Hoyas coaches empowered Fields and entrusted in him more responsibility, Fields responded with a season that stamped his arrival as a national recruit with nearly 4,000 yards of total offense and 27 total touchdowns.
“We never told Justin when to throw it,” Dickmann said. “We just said, ‘If it’s fair and clear, take it, and if it’s cloudy, run the run play.’
“He had the option to throw pre-snap or hand it off or keep it. He really blossomed. He just made a lot of good decisions. One thing about Justin is he always really made good decisions. Even last year playing at Georgia, he had a high percentage, very few mistakes, and he just doesn’t make lot of mistakes. That makes you a very good football team.”
Fields’ elite decision-making skills simply are part of his total package.
“One thing about Justin that’s different than most people who play the position, he checks all the boxes,” Dickmann said. “Some guys are high IQ, football or otherwise, but not athletic. Or they’re athletic, but Justin had a 3.9 GPA in high school and is very poised too. He’s just got ice-water running in his veins. Just doesn’t get rattled.”
Peruse old high school highlights on YouTube and the unflappable approach of Fields is transparent. Dickman even vividly recalls his favorite moment.
“Well, he’s got a lot of them, but I’ll never forget the game against Sprayberry, and he went back to throw, it wasn’t there, he turned one way, turned another and he made like six people miss [en route to a touchdown],” Dickman said. “It shows how great an athlete he is. We’ve been fortunate to have a lot of good football players but that’s the difference between a D-I football player and a high-level five-star.
“He made like six kids look absolutely silly. And we just laughed and said, ‘Yeah, just how we drew it up.’”
Dickmann visited Fields in Columbus after Fields transferred into the Ohio State program in January, and he also recently chatted with Fields when Fields returned home for his sister’s graduation. Dickmann has seen in his former star pupil an understanding of the magnitude of the opportunity with the Buckeyes.
“I know that in talking to him and when we had lunch up there, he’s really enjoying his time at Ohio State,” Dickmann, an Ohio native, said. “And I think they love him up there, the way he has jumped in. From the weight room and how he jumped in, they were doing mat drills, and he got after it. And they like the way he goes about his business; he’s a young man preparing himself every day.
“I think he really enjoys working with Coach [Ryan] Day and [quarterbacks coach Mike] Yurcich because he’s so detailed when it comes to the offense. I think he’s really enjoyed it and is understanding what it means to be an Ohio State Buckeye.”
And now it’s a different program’s chance to open up an offense and feature Justin Fields.