Jake Fromm settled in behind the microphone, scruffy faced, hair nicely coiffed, looking entirely comfortable in this unfamiliar setting — as usual.
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Georgia’s confident freshman quarterback has faced Southeastern Conference defenses and hostile road environments like a veteran this season, leading the third-ranked Bulldogs to the College Football Playoff. What he has not done much is talk to reporters. Georgia coach Kirby Smart prohibits freshmen from doing interviews, a rule Fromm had to acknowledge, he kind of likes.
“It’s been great, you know, not having to, but it’s part of it, man, and I’m thankful to be here,” Fromm said Thursday during a 45-minute availability for the Rose Bowl that requires the starting quarterback’s participation.
As he has done so often this year — in much more difficult situations — Fromm handled the task just fine. There is no guarantee Fromm will play well against No. 2 Oklahoma on Monday in Pasadena, but it is safe to assume he will not be overwhelmed by the moment.
Fromm said there might have been a few times, however fleeting, when he first got to Georgia that he questioned whether he belonged.
“But man, I haven’t had the feeling in an extremely long time,” he said. “I’ve kind of taken every opportunity and felt like I’ve kind of owned it and just kind of ready for the next challenge.”
Just 19, Fromm was thrust into the starting role this season out of necessity. Sophomore Jacob Eason went down with a knee injury during the opener against Appalachian State. The next week, Fromm made his first college start at Notre Dame. The Bulldogs’ one-point victory that day was the first sign a team that had finished 8-5 in its first season under coach Kirby Smart was primed to take off in year two.
Fromm had won over the Bulldogs long before that night in South Bend.
Fromm is a Georgia native who grew up in a family of ‘Dawgs fans in Warner Robins, about 100 miles from Atlanta. He passed for 12,745 yards and 116 touchdowns in 46 career games at Houston County High School.
But with Eason in place, Fromm was committed to Alabama.
Smart, the former Crimson Tide defensive coordinator, and his staff flipped Fromm to Georgia.
“I got to watch him play against what is probably the best collective group in the region in the state of Georgia and he did a great job of that,” Smart said. “He competed at the highest level against some really good teams. He never got upset when he didn’t play well. He threw some interceptions. He came back from them. He shows great resiliency and leadership.”
Fromm brought those same traits to Athens, taking a leadership role during spring practice and summer workouts.
“He’d challenge guys, he’d step up, and he’s the same guy you see now as soon as when he came in the door,” senior tight end Jeb Blazevich said.
Fromm was able to strike a balance with his older teammates. Confident but not cocky. He knew what he was doing, but he wasn’t a know-it-all. Senior offensive tackle Isaiah Wynn said he could only remember one moment where he thought the freshman quarterback needed a little reminder that he was still a freshman.
“At one point in practice he told me I had a corner or somebody (blitzing) and I just turned around and said, ‘Yeah, I know, I got this.’ And that was about the only time,” Wynn said.
Fromm also recalled Wynn and senior running back Nick Chubb yelling at him during a game for not sliding and exposing himself to a big hit.
“Of course, I was going to listen to the senior left tackle,” Fromm said.
Georgia offensive coordinator Jim Chaney said the only time he remembered feeling as if the game was moving too fast for Fromm was early on at Tennessee when the freshman threw an interception. Chaney said he never had to modify the offense to accommodate Fromm’s lack of experience.
“We test our kids all the time on their knowledge of what we’re trying to get down but he got it all,” the veteran assistant said.
There is no doubt that Fromm benefits from playing in an offense that does not ask him to carry a heavy load. He leads the SEC in passing efficiency with a 168.3 rating, but his 230 attempts rank 93rd in the country. Behind 1,000-yard rusher Chubb and Sony Michel, Georgia is 10th in the country in rushing at 263.5 yards per game. And the Bulldogs play ferocious defense.
“We don’t look at him as a game manager,” Oklahoma defensive coordinator Mike Stoops said. “That said, they don’t want to be in third-and-long all day.”
Fromm is two victories away from becoming just the second true freshman quarterback to guide a team to a national championship, joining Oklahoma’s Jamelle Holieway, who did it in 1985.
“Who’s that?” Fromm said when asked if he had heard of Holieway. “Hope I can add my name to the list.”