ATLANTA - This is one of those days when we wish we could flip ahead a year, two years, two decades. Would our reaction today mirror the reality that can be revealed only over the fullness of time?
Apologies for that sentence sounding especially ponderous, but this is kind of a big deal. Jake Fromm, among the more successful quarterbacks in the history of a program that considers itself among the nation's finest, is leaving for the NFL, and I can't help but wonder if the reaction of Georgia fans to his struggles this season didn't grease the chute.
About those struggles: They were real. They were not, as offensive coordinator James Coley suggested before the Sugar Bowl, a statistical quirk. The Fromm of Year 3 wasn't the Fromm of Years 1 and 2. We might never know exactly why. There mightn't be an exact "why." It could have been many things, from the tangible (substandard receivers, a different OC, the absence of a dedicated quarterbacks coach) to the psychic (the daily stress of hearing how Georgia Picked The Wrong Quarterback).
And it could well be that Fromm is leaving because, after three seasons of leading the Bulldogs to a record of 35-7 as a starter and three consecutive SEC East titles, he feels it's time. The only thing left for him as a collegian would have been to do that which he darn near did as a freshman, meaning win the national championship. That said, the junior season of William Jacob Fromm will be recalled not so much for what did/didn't happen but for how we, meaning all of us on the periphery, reacted to it.
Remember what Kirby Smart said after Fromm led the Bulldogs to the victory in Jacksonville that essentially clinched the division: "I'm proud of the support (the fans) provided, even if they didn't think Jake could throw the ball." This isn't to harangue the public for being a bunch of dim-witted ingrates. Fromm DIDN'T throw the ball as well in 2019. (Check those year-over-year stats.) He WASN'T quite the same.
Before the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl, I was talking with a writer who has covered the SEC as long as I have, which is a while.
Him: "I feel sorry for Fromm. He looked lost against LSU (in the SEC Championship game)."
Me: "If you'd seen him the past two years, you wouldn't recognize him now."
In preseason, ESPN ranked the top 50 collegiate players; Fromm was No. 5. The same outlet did a re-ranking last month; Fromm wasn't included. How, without suffering a major injury, does that happen?
Spoiler alert: I don't have a real answer for you. But I note that even someone as accustomed to success as Fromm - he was hitting home runs for Warner Robins in the Little League World Series before Rivals ever hung a star rating on him - isn't immune to the pressure on the 21st century collegiate athlete.
For pros, social-media scrutiny is now part of the job. Even though college football is a professional sport in most every way but one, the way in which it isn't is worth mentioning: Apart from a scholarship and ancillary stuff, these guys aren't getting paid. And when people who've loved you for two years take to Twitter and pine for Justin Fields, how can it not sting?
Maybe there will come a day when Fromm reveals just how this season felt. To date, he hasn't expressed an inner thought about much of anything. Like Matt Ryan, he works hard at saying nothing. But again we refer to Smart's post-Florida remarks, in which he revealed that he'd had lunch with Fromm twice over the bye week and said, in response to a question: "He has not had SO much success in his life. He's had a lot of people doubt him. He's a chip-on-his-shoulder guy. It drives him."
Is that why he's leaving a year of quarterbacking the Red & Black on the table? Is Fromm eager to escape the side-by-side comparison with Fields? (Had he stayed another year, they surely would have been paired in next year's draft. Trevor Lawrence, yet another Georgian, figures to be there, too.) Does he believe the NFL will have greater appreciation of his skills? (That's a possibility. Pro teams love smart quarterbacks, which Fromm is.) Does he simply want, at age 21, to see what else is out there?
What does this mean for Georgia? It means Kirby Smart better find a quarterback if he wants to stay ahead of Florida, but you knew that already. It also means one of the greatest players in Bulldogs annals is gone. If you believe replacing Fromm will be easy, you're wrong. Even in a lesser season, he still presided over 12 wins. That's not nothing. That's way more than not nothing.
I don't know Fromm apart from the occasional news-conference question, but I felt bad for him last fall. He'd done nothing but bring honor to UGA, and suddenly he was getting ripped because he wasn't as good as the guy who left UGA. Somehow that didn't seem fair, but who knows? Maybe the chip-on-his-shoulder guy will laugh about it all when he's making All-Pro.
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