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Tennessee is still searching for its quarterback in the Class of 2018.
The Vols are already off to a solid start for the next cycle (commits from 5-star OT Cade Mays and 4-star WR Alontae Taylor), but no position is more important than quarterback, and the Volunteers have swung and missed twice on their future signal caller. Could a third time be the charm?
It better be.
After missing on 5-stars Trevor Lawerence and Emory Jones, the Volunteers have circled their sights on 3-star quarterback Justin Fields from Harrison (Ga.) High.
The junior will visit Rocky Top on Saturday for the Ohio game, giving the Volunteers one final chance to woo their new No. 1 quarterback target. Fields tripped to Tennessee last month, and he’s finishing his barnstorming tour across the country — he was at Penn State two weeks ago, and visited Northwestern last Saturday — before making a decision sometime soon.
Now it’s the Volunteers turn to make a lasting impression.
“Tennessee is a great place,” Fields told me.
“The football atmosphere is second to none. They’re high on my list. I want to see really on how well I fit in. I think that’s really important. How well do you really fit in (to a program)? To the system? How you get along with the rest of the team and the coaches?”
On the gridiron, Fields is a perfect fit for UT’s no-huddle, spread offense. The 6-foot-3, 213-pound duel-threat quarterback is instinctive and possesses all the typical intangibles of a successful leader. Fields is mobile and armed with a quick trigger and a beautiful mind. In just three games in 2016, he’s racked up 9 total touchdowns and an upset win over the No. 7 team in Georgia. He’s the Hoyas leading passer (616 yards) and runner (247 yards).
Harrison High coach Matt Dickmann gushed about Fields’ approach, intelligence and decision-making, saying, “He’s very confident. I don’t mean cocky. Confident.”
“He believes in his ability,” Dickmann explained further.
“I think last year, learning the offense and getting it down he’s just been unbelievable. He’s very articulate. He has a 4.0 GPA. His strength is his intelligence and No. 2 is his decision-making. He makes great decisions and he makes them quickly.”
Fields has drawn comparisons to two other big, athletic quarterbacks who dominated prep football in Georgia — Cam Newton and Vols quarterback Josh Dobbs.
The 2018 prospect said he’s “flattered” by the company, adding, “Josh Dobbs is a great football player. He’s smart, really talented. We have similar attributes. … I feel like I give the defense a problem because I can hurt them with my arm and my legs. I’m working on my pocket presence, making quicker decisions, making quicker reads.”
The Hoyas actually altered their normally run-heavy offense for a spread attack because of Fields’ talent. Like Tennessee, Harrison High uses a heavy dose of run-pass options and tries to keep the ball in Fields’ hands as much as possible.
“We’ve tweaked the offense with Justin. You have to do that depending on who your best players are. We can spread it out and do a little bit more than we’ve been able to in the past,” Dickmann told me.
“He’s a playmaker with his arm and on the ground. Anytime you have a duel-threat quarterback it makes your life a lot easier as coaches. He’s not only fast, but he’s very shifty, too. He can stick his foot in the ground and make a great plant and cut. He has dynamic ability.”
Fields earned a Tennessee offer in July, showcasing well at a Vols quarterback camp. The 17-year-old saw his stock explode over the summer, reeling in more than 15 offers.
And they haven’t stopped coming, either. Just in the last week, Georgia Tech, Arizona and Iowa State tried to get into the mix late.
However, the Vols are in a heated four-way battle with North Carolina, Northwestern and Penn State.
While Fields specifically mentioned he doesn’t feel pressured to make a decision soon, he’s outlined an announcement sometime in the near future.
“A lot of schools are getting commits. I don’t feel pressured to commit, but I’m just ready to get it over with and focus on my high school team and try to win a championship.”
3 more things about Justin Fields
1. He’s a jokester. “He’s got a great sense of humor. Really good,” Dickmann said. “But he also knows when it’s time to focus. That’s why he’s so coachable.”
2. He’s a leader. “This is the best start we’ve had in probably 15 years,” Fields said.
3. He’s dynamic on the diamond, too. “He’s a heck of a baseball player,” Dickmman said. “Just a tremendous athlete on the baseball field, too. I’m sure there’s going to be a lot of people looking at him there, but I believe his first love is still football.”
The Volunteers have several natural selling points for Fields.
First, stability. Of the four finalists, Tennessee has the least amount of question-marks. UNC actually already has one 2018 quarterback commit, while the staffs at Penn State and Northwestern face murky futures.
Next, fit. I keep coming back to that, but it’s particularly important to Fields.
Sure, he likes Tennessee’s tradition and facilities, but more importantly, Fields sees a real fit schematically. During his previous visit to Tennessee, the quarterback sat down with offensive coordinator Mike DeBord and quality control coach Nick Sheridan, ostensibly Tennessee’s quarterback coach, and went over the offense. He was surprised to find out his school ran many similar plays. Although the verbiage was different, the concepts were the same.
“A lot of the things were the same that I do here,” Fields said.
“Just a very similar offense.”
Academics are very important to Fields and his family also, so during this weekend’s visit the future business major hopes to get a chance to pick Dobbs’ brain on the potential to be a true student-athlete at Tennessee.
The Vols certainly have the perfect salesman to close to deal.
More visitors this weekend
Fields isn’t the only recruit tripping to Tennessee on Saturday. Despite the noon kickoff, here’s a list of several other notable visitors for the Ohio game…
* 2017 safety commit Maleik Gray, a 4-star prospect from LaVergne
* 2018 athlete commit Alontae Taylor, a 4-star recruit from Coffee County
* 2018 offensive line prospect Jalil Irvin, a 4-star recruit Stone Mountain, Ga.
* 2017 safety commit Theo Jackson, a 3-star recruit from Overton