SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. – They aren’t the best of friends, they’re probably not even close friends. But talent and geography have linked them together since they were in their early years of high school.
Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields and Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence grew up around 20 miles apart, when Fields played at Kennesaw, Ga., Harrison High School while Lawrence was playing for Cartersville, Ga., both in the sprawling Atlanta metropolitan area.
They were the top two quarterbacks in the 2018 recruiting class. And now they will lead their teams in a College Football Playoff semifinal game in the Fiesta Bowl.
And they share at least one other thing. Their talents are so formidable that they make other quarterbacks transfer.
When Lawrence was given the starting quarterback job at Clemson in the fifth game of the season last fall, Kelly Bryant – who led the Tigers to the College Football Playoff semifinals in 2017 – left the team and eventually transferred to Missouri.
Similarly, Tate Martell transferred to Miami and Matthew Baldwin went to TCU when Fields transferred to Ohio State from Georgia.
The Fields-Lawrence relationship got a lot of attention at Fiesta Bowl media day on Thursday.
“Me and Trevor are really cool. We’re not like really close friends but I think it’s just really cool and we both have respect for each other. Growing up with Trevor and competing with him has definitely made us both better and I think made us more competitive,” Fields said on Thursday.
Lawrence said, “People have always been putting us together for like four years now. We’ve always been friends. It’s never been something we’ve really focused on too much. He’s the same way. He wants to win whatever team he’s on.
“We haven’t hung out much. But we’re friends. If I see him, we’ll catch up. We’ll text each other every once in a while. But we’re not super-close friends,” he said. “We haven’t talked that much during the season but in the offseason we would talk a little bit, text back and forth.”
Lawrence led Clemson to the national championship last season and the Tigers, who have a 28-game winning streak, haven’t lost in the 23 games he has started. He passed for 3,280 yards and 30 touchdowns with only four interceptions last season as a freshman.
This year, he has thrown for 3,172 yards and 34 touchdowns with eight interceptions. But all eight of those interceptions came in Clemson’s first seven games, which led to Lawrence hearing significant criticism for the first time in his career.
“Last year it was kind of like I could do no wrong, being a freshman and not having a lot of expectations. And now this year there were a lot of expecations and you make a few bad plays and everyone is talking about it,” he said.
Fields has thrown for 2,953 yards with 40 touchdown passes and only one interception, which came against Michigan State on Oct. 5.
Fields is still in the do no wrong phase of his Ohio State career. He has exceeded expectations and it is hard to imagine OSU having the success it has had with the likes of Chris Chugonov, Martell or Baldwin as its starting quarterback.
Fields said Ohio State coach Ryan Day and his offense were the biggest factors in selecting OSU when he transferred from Georgia.
“I thought I could excel in this offense. He knows how to fix the offense to where a player’s strengths are. I felt like Coach Day was the best coach for me,” he said.
Dwayne Haskins, whose decision to enter the NFL draft, left Ohio State searching for a quarterback, also helped convince Fields to become a Buckeye.
“He just told me Coach Day was a great guy, a great coach and that he knew a lot about the game of football. Hearing that from him I thought I could excel in this offense. Hearing all that stuff coming from him really attracted me to Ohio State,” Fields said.
Fields also said his personal match-up with Lawrence is not a priority.
“I’m pretty much taking it as a regular game,” he said. “I’m really just focused on the game. If I throw zero touchdowns and we win the game, that’s fine.”