When Auburn and Mercer meet up Saturday, Mercer won’t bring many high-profile recruits to the table.
In the program’s entire football history, it has only been able to haul in two 3-star prospects or better. Both of those were 3-star recruits in the 2016 recruiting class. Big-time 4-star and 5-star prospects — and even 3-star recruits — aren’t heading en masse to Macon, Ga., to play college football.
But, oh, what could’ve been.
In an alternative universe — where 5-star Auburn quarterback target Justin Fields never became a 5-star quarterback and top programs never offered him or recruited him the way they have — Fields was set to be the quarterback at Mercer. OK, maybe Fields speaks somewhat tongue-in-cheek when he says it, but there was a time where that could’ve been the top option, if even that was a potential option.
Fields has conducted two SEC Country interviews in the last few months when he’s mentioned, of all places, Mercer — Auburn’s Week 3 opponent. Now a 5-star quarterback, Fields was often an afterthought in recruiting, as top programs — Auburn included — chased after other top targets when Fields wasn’t even up to a 3-star prospect.
During those times, Fields even had his own doubts.
SEC Country colleague Jeff Sentell asked him this question earlier this year: Where did you see yourself going to college before all of this recruiting and this decision of yours became such a business decision for you?
Fields’ response? “You mean before all this happened? Mercer. A school like that. Mercer or Furman. Somewhere. I just didn’t think I was good enough for the bigger schools.”
It might seem like a joke. Sometimes Fields likes to joke around with fellow recruits as a way to avoid revealing his true feelings about schools. One day, it might be Kennesaw State. Another, it’s ITT Tech. Fields is a 5-star Twitter comedian when it comes to his responses to folks desperately asking where he’s going to commit.
But with Mercer, the initial conversation was real. Two of his Harrison High School teammates — offensive tackles Eric Allen and Trey Iorillo — were a part of Mercer’s 2017 class. Fields got to know that coaching staff and even visited before the spring of his junior year when his recruitment, still not to the extent it is now, began to pick up.
“I think it was before spring last year, I just wanted an offer from Mercer,” Fields told SEC Country’s Zach Abolverdi with a laugh this summer. “So I’ve definitely come a long way. I’m going to be honest. I probably didn’t feel [good enough to play at a big school] last year, I guess.
“I didn’t know I was this good. I feel like sometimes I doubt myself when I shouldn’t. God’s blessed me with a great gift.”