ATHENS, Ga. — Jake Fromm hardly looks like a guy less than a year removed from high school.
Poised and confident, he was thrust into a starting role in his very first game at Georgia. Fromm quickly gained the respect of his teammates, guided the Bulldogs to one win after another, and now he’s got them positioned to make a run at the biggest prize of all.
Jamelle Holieway can relate.
He remains the only true freshman quarterback to lead his team to a national title in the modern era.
Back in 1985, Holieway took over for the Sooners after Troy Aikman went down with a broken leg in a loss to Miami. They didn’t lose again, going on to claim the No. 1 spot with a victory over Penn State in the Orange Bowl.
“If he does win it, he won’t understand what it all meant until years later,” Holieway said Monday, referring to Fromm. “When you’re a freshman, you just want to play and make a difference on the team.”
Fromm began the season as the backup to Jacob Eason, who started for the Bulldogs in 2016 as a highly recruited player right out of high school.
Then, as it did 32 years earlier with Holieway, fate intervened.
Eason sustained a knee injury in a season-opening victory over Appalachian State . Fromm took over and the No. 2 Bulldogs (9-0, 6-0) just kept rolling, claiming the top spot in the first College Football Playoff rankings and clinching a spot in the Southeastern Conference title game.
“There’s just a total take-control, a total confidence about him,” former Georgia coach Vince Dooley said. “If he makes a mistake, he’s a quick learner from the mistake that he makes. He’s not intimidated by anything.”
Fromm made that clear in the second game of his career, his very first start for the Bulldogs. On the road in one of college football’s most hallowed venues, the youngster kept leading Georgia from behind for a 20-19 victory over Notre Dame . It wasn’t a great performance statistically — Fromm completed 16 of 29 for 141 yards, with one touchdown and one interception — but he never flinched.
No one left South Bend thinking Eason would ever get his job back.
This is Fromm’s team now.
“That’s just his personality,” Bulldogs coach Kirby Smart said. “He’s been that way his whole life. He’s got a lot of intangibles. He’s a good leader. He’s not afraid of competition.”
Fromm will face another tough environment Saturday when the Bulldogs travel to Auburn to face the No. 10 Tigers (7-2, 5-1).
This appears to be the last potential stumbling block on the road to a perfect regular season and an expected showdown with No. 1 Alabama for the SEC title, a game that would have all the makings of a de facto playoff game in the national race.
Fromm’s marching orders are clear.
“He has to make good decisions. He has to execute the plan. He has to be able to give the playmakers the ball,” said Smart, who doesn’t allow freshmen to speak to the media. “As long as he does those things and makes good decisions, we are a pretty good football team because we can complement defense, special teams and offense.”
If Holieway could speak with Fromm, he’d pass along similar advice.
“Get the ball to your playmakers,” he said, “Just be prepared for every situation as far as defensive schemes go, because they’re going to throw a whole lot a things at him being a true freshman. They’re going to try to ruffle his feathers. If he has poise and confidence in his team, the team is going to rally around him.”
Oh, and one other thing: “Always give credit to your offensive linemen,” Holieway added. “Without the linemen, we ain’t nothing.”
It’s still a bit of a gamble to go with a true freshman quarterback, but not like it once was.
Last season, Jalen Hurts just missed out on a national title in his first season at Alabama .
Dooley expects more and more freshmen to get a shot at playing right away for elite programs.
“They’re getting more sophisticated with these things,” Dooley said. “When you take a guy with exceptional qualities and you add it to the sophistication that they possess (in high school) with these 7-on-7s, the emphasis on quarterback skills and teaching in schools, all these other things that are available to them.”
Holieway remembers winning the respect of his teammates — most of them older than him — by what he did on the practice field and during the week.
The games, in a way, were secondary.
Fromm is following much the same path.
“Every day I come in early, and Jake’s already in the film room,” senior nose tackle John Atkins said.
Holieway hopes to get a chance to meet Fromm.
Maybe even in January at the national championship game in Atlanta.
While Holieway is pulling for his alma mater to win it all — Oklahoma is ranked No. 5 and coming off a huge win over Oklahoma State — he wouldn’t mind having some company in his very exclusive club.
“Every record is meant to be broken,” Holieway said. “For me to hold it for 32 years, that’s all right. I wish the best for the young man. You never know. You might not ever get another chance to play for a national championship.”
Follow Paul Newberry on Twitter at www.twitter.com/pnewberry1963 . His work can be found at https://apnews.com/search/paul%20newberry
AP Sports Writer Cliff Brunt in Oklahoma City contributed to this report.
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