Let’s dial this back several months, before Jake Fromm came off the bench against Appalachian State, before the win at Notre Dame, before Mississippi State and Tennessee and Florida and the exorcism in the rematch against Auburn.
Jake Fromm, a coveted high school prospect from Warner Robins, signed a letter of intent at Georgia in February. Why? The Bulldogs already had their presumed quarterback of the future in Jacob Eason. Any other program among the blur of those pursuing Fromm would have provided a more certain path to starting. Why short-change his chances?
“I grew up a Georgia fan, a Georgia boy and I always wanted to play quarterback for the University of Georgia,” Fromm said. “I knew coming in I could be one play away from playing, and that’s what happened. I wanted to make myself better. I wanted to make Jacob better and make the team better.”
And that outweighed an easier chance to start?
“Yeah. I didn’t want to take the easy way out.”
Quarterbacks are different. Their success isn’t measured merely on the “measurables” – size, speed, arm strength. It’s not a throw-the-ball-though-the-flying-hoola-hoop kinda deal. It’s more about leadership, maturity and having clarity amid chaos – assets that don’t show up in statistical analysis.
Jake Fromm’s non-measurables are off the non-charts.
He’s not Dan Marino. He doesn’t need to be, certainly not with Nick Chubb and Sony Michel available to hand the ball to. But Georgia is in the College Football Playoff in part because of their 19-year-old starting quarterback. That doesn’t mean the Bulldogs would not have won the SEC if Eason had stayed healthy and remained the starter, but it’s easy to see why the rarity of a freshman quarterback going 11-1 as a starter unfolded.
Mike Stoops, the Oklahoma defensive coordinator, said of Fromm’s ascension to this point, “It sounds crazy, but it’s not as crazy you think. The kids coming up today, if they have maturity and skills, they’re going to be fine. If they’re not mentally strong, you’ll see it. But this kid has it. The way they come out of high school now, they’re physically stronger and mentally stronger.”
Some guys just have it.
Fromm stepped on campus and this past summer jokingly engaged in trash-talking with upperclassmen on the defense in seven-on-seven drills. When he took over for the injured Eason in the Appalachian State game, neither he nor anybody on the Georgia coaching staff anticipated things would develop this way. But Fromm struck the right balance between quarterback leadership and understanding he was a pup surrounded by veterans. And truthfully, he just got a lot better along the way.
“I definitely had to take things slow,” he said Thursday. “But after a while, guys started to buy into me.
“It’s funny. We were running one play in practice and I felt like I had to remind (senior tackle) Isaiah Wynn to fan out and block somebody. He just kind of looked at me. I was like, ‘oh yeah, Isaiah, he’s been here a while.’”
Sure, he makes mistakes. But he can’t remember the last time a “moment” in athletics seemed too big for him. He was on a national stage in 2011 when he pitched for the Warner Robins baseball team in the Little League World Series, playing games on ESPN.
“At the end of the day, you’re just playing a game,” he said. “You’re just throwing a football. You’re just throwing a basebalI.
“I know that if you make a mistake, you wash it and you move on to the next play.”
Sounds easy but not always easy to accomplish.
“I don’t know why I can do that. I just can,” he said.
He handled interviews effortlessly Thursday. It was significant in that it was his first formal news conference since he signed his letter of intent. Coach Kirby Smart, who has a no-freshman-interview policy, allowed Fromm to speak to reporters in the locker room after the SEC Championship game win over Auburn, but otherwise has kept him off limits to the media.
I asked him if he practiced in front of the mirror before Thursday.
“No, I just started thinking about it 15 minutes before. I really wasn’t expecting to talk here,” he said.
Were there points this season when he wanted to talk about what was going on with the team or the competition with Eason?
“Actually, I was kind of enjoying it,” he said. “I think it helped me. Not talking, it didn’t make anything feel too big. When you don’t talk, it doesn’t make you think about things. I don’t read a whole lot anyway, and people don’t put a whole lot in your head.”
Fromm and Eason remain good friends. They’re rooming together this week. It seems likely Eason will transfer after this season, but Fromm said it never became awkward between the two.
Offensive coordinator Jim Chaney never expected this was a situation Georgia would have to navigate this season. He knows this has been difficult on Eason (“He has handled this situation as good as any human being can handle it. It’s been hard on him, I know it has.”) But there was never a question that Eason was starter coming out of summer camp. He had a year of experience and he was better.
“I wouldn’t argue (the gap between Eason and Fromm) was significant,” Chaney said. “But it wasn’t such that we wouldn’t feel comfortable going in the other direction in the App State game.”
Chaney said there was never a “premeditated moment” about Fromm remaining as starter.
But: “You could just see it starting to click and the ball starting to move down the field with relative ease. Then Jacob got healthy, but you couldn’t make the change at that time. It wouldn’t have been the right thing. He’s grown at a rate that a lot of freshman don’t.”
Even Fromm is surprised by all this: “If you would’ve told me this season would be written this way, I would not have believed you for one minute.”
He’s been amused by his celebrity status. Other kids turn around when he walks into class.
Also, in the past few weeks, “I had to sign a lot of footballs for Christmas for family.”
He didn’t want to take the easy path to success. He’s just making it look easy.
Eye candy: Facebook Live with WSB’s Zach Klein.