Ohio State coach recalls how Kirby Smart handled Justin Fields’ transfer, former QB’s view of Georgia program

FILE -= Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields began his career at Georgia before transferring to play for the Buckeyes and lead them to Big Ten championships. (AP Photo/John Bazemore, File)

ATHENS — If you Google “Georgia” and “Ohio State,” Justin Fields name will come up about 99 out of 100 times.

The former 5-star recruit, Georgia Bulldog, Ohio State Buckeye and now Chicago Bear is a tie that binds the two powerhouse programs together after beginning his career in Athens and fulfilling his promise in Columbus.

The schools’ mutual storyline will soon shift with Kirby Smart’s No. 1-ranked team slated to play No. 4-ranked Ohio State at 8 p.m. on Dec. 31 in the CFP Peach Bowl Semifinal.

The Buckeyes moved on from Fields with Heisman Trophy trophy finalist C.J. Stroud filling Fields’ shoes and putting up monster numbers the past two seasons.

The storybook career of Georgia QB Stetson Bennett, meanwhile, was sandwiched around Fields’ one season (2018) in the UGA program.

Bennett originally walked on at Georgia in 2017 but then transferred to play at Jones (Miss.) Junior College in 2018.

If Fields hadn’t left for Ohio State, Bennett would not have had a UGA scholarship offer to return in 2019 to back-up incumbent Jake Fromm.

Bennett revealed at SEC Media Day last summer he was prepared to sign at Louisiana-Lafayette, a program then-coached by current Florida coach Billy Napier.

WATCH: Stetson Bennett shares tale of transfer with Eli Manning

As active as quarterback transfers were then, it’s even more so the case now, with transfers making up nearly half of the QB starters in the FBS ranks this season.

Georgia pursued Caleb Williams in the transfer portal last year before Williams ultimately followed his coach, Lincoln Riley, from Oklahoma to USC.

RELATED: Unfiltered truths of Stetson Bennett’s incredible journey

As for Fields, Day shared part of the Ohio State side of the story on Sunday.

“It goes without saying he obviously was unbelievable here and had a major impact here,” Day said on the CFP Peach Bowl Semifinal teleconference on Sunday.

“I have so much respect for the way Kirby handled that, because Justin had nothing but unbelievable things to say about his staff and Kirby on the way out.”

The Bulldogs ultimately signed former Ohio State commit D’Wan Mathis in the early signing period after the Michigan prospect learned through Twitter that the Buckeyes had an interest in Fields.

RELATED: D’Wan Mathis tells tale of switching from Ohio State to UGA

Mathis’ time at Georgia proved relatively brief, as he underwent an emergency brain surgery procedure and recovered enough to start the 2020 season before transferring to Temple.

RELATED: D’Wan Mathis overcomes brain surgery, miraculously returns to football

Georgia fans have been down the road of reminiscing about Fields before.

Many recall how Smart allowed him to travel with the team to the Sugar Bowl in 2018, even after Fields said he planned to leave the program.

“We would like him to stay,” Smart said at the time, explaining that Georgia had hoped to re-recruit Fields in the program during that trip to New Orleans that would end with a loss to Texas.

“You don’t second-guess that, you second guess what other ways could we have created a role for Justin to stay, and know that he was going to get the opportunity,” Smart said in a 2021 interview. “So it was a tough situation, obviously.

“But I respect Justin and the decision he made, and the decision we made as coaches to play Jake while he was playing, while he was here in his second year.”

RELATED: How Trevor Lawrence’s success affected Justin Fields’ transfer

Day and the Buckeyes immediately started Fields in 2019, of course, and he led Ohio State to back-to-back Big Ten Championships and CFP appearances including a national title game appearance against Alabama following the 2020 season.

Day’s Ohio State teams were 20-2 with Fields, including a perfect 15-0 record against Big Ten teams.

Day said he understands how challenging it can be for programs to lose great players because the Buckeyes have lost their share, themselves.

“Those are not easy situations, we’ve all been through it, we lived through the same things with Joe Burrow and Jameson Williams,” Day said, recalling how Burrow left an Urban Meyer-led Ohio State program and took LSU to the 2019 CFP Championship, while Williams left to help spark Alabama to a 2021 CFP title game appearance.

“This was kind of the way things have gone in college football. and the way everybody handled it was with class,’ Day said.

“Justin had an amazing impact here, and he’s doing a really good job in the NFL now and I’m glad to see him having success, but he certainly left a legacy here.”

Justin’s sister, Jaiden, has carved a successful career with the Georgia softball team. She has been one of the program’s leading hitters while also making an impact off the field as a member of the Student-Athlete Advisory Committee and UGA Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Committee.

RELATED: Jaiden Fields delivers game-winning hit to knock off 34-0 Oklahoma

Indeed, and now it’s up to Bennett and Stroud to leave their marks at Georgia and Ohio State, both having already proven capable of legendary performances in the past.

Bennett earned CFP Orange Bowl and CFP Championship MVP honors last season, while Stroud set school and Rose Bowl records by passing for 573 yards and six TDs in a 48-45 win over Utah.

It certainly won’t take long for this Peach Bowl matchup to cycle up in the search engines when “Georgia” and “Ohio State” are typed in.

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