Seventeen miles of U.S. Highway 41 are all that separate Kennesaw and Cartersville, Georgia.

It’s from these northwestern Atlanta suburbs that two of college football’s greatest and most influential legends arose. Justin Fields and Trevor Lawrence have been conjoined since high school, from their recruiting profiles to their advocacy to their projections as NFL stars.

It’s almost too fitting to be true that they’re facing off in a second straight College Football Playoff semifinal this Friday.

“It’s just a small world,” Lawrence said.

Can you name another pair quite like the Ohio State and Clemson quarterbacks?

They grew up just down the road from one another — Fields in Kennesaw, an old railroad town turned growing outer-metropolitan locale; Lawrence in Cartersville, about a 20-minute drive to northwest of Kennesaw and about an hour from Chattanooga, Tennessee.

They were forever linked well before they both spearheaded college football players’ “#WeWantToPlay” movement that helped ensure college football actually happened this year. Fields, second only to Lawrence in the overall 2018 recruiting rankings, bumped into his fellow Georgian frequently on the recruiting trail, including the 2017 Elite 11 camp at which the current Buckeyes signal caller was named MVP.

Their high schools played in different classifications, otherwise Fields and Lawrence might have had even more of a history.

“We’ve kind of been matched up for years just going back to high school,” Lawrence said. “I don’t really see it like that; I’m not out here just competing against Justin. We’re friends, we’ve got a good relationship, but that’s what people kind of like to pin it as: me against him.”

It was the exact opposite this summer.

Lawrence was one of the first high-profile players to attach his name to the #WeWantToPlay movement. When the Big Ten canceled fall football, Fields, coach Ryan Day and Ohio State were some of the loudest voices clamoring for the conference to reverse course.

Fields’ petition to reinstate the season garnered over 302,000 signatures.

He and Lawrence were both part of the preliminary text threads and Zoom calls as athletes around the country attempted to coordinate efforts — both for playing games during COVID-19 and taking steps to effect social justice and player influence away from the field.

Without them, we probably aren’t here.

“It’s cool to be a part of something like that,” Lawrence said. “It wasn’t just me. My name gets thrown on the headline, the label of everything. But it wasn’t just me; I probably didn’t even do most of the work. But … I think we’ll look back on that as a pretty cool moment and kind of a turning point.”

Despite Lawrence’s status as the surefire No. 1 pick in the 2021 NFL Draft, even his and Fields’ stats aren’t that different:

  • Fields: 56 touchdown passes, 8 interceptions, 68.9 completion percentage, 9.25 yards per attempt, 15 rushing touchdowns, one interception every 69.6 passes, 19-1 as a starter
  • Lawrence: 58 TDs, 12 INTs, 67.2, 9.26, 16 rushing TDs, one INT every 68.1 throws, 23-1

And yet somehow Lawrence is billed as a lock to go to the Jets or Jaguars while Fields is all over the top 10 of mock draft boards. Nevertheless, they’re the two best quarterbacks in this NFL class just like they were collegiately just 3 1/2 years ago.

But their draft projections aren’t the only source of divergence on this joint journey.

Lawrence committed to Clemson and never waivered. Can you picture Fields in a Penn State uni? That’s where he was originally committed before backing up Jake Fromm for a year in Georgia then transferring to Ohio State in 2019.

Lawrence looks like former Pink Floyd front man Roger Waters. Fields is more similar in appearance to Chance the Rapper.

Lawrence grew up in a two-parent, white¬† household. Fields’ folks are divorced, though his mother and stepmother maintain positive roles in his life.

His father, Ivant Fields, was an Atlanta police officer.

They both have younger siblings; Fields’ sister Jaiden plays softball at Georgia.

Both families are devoutly Christian, too, a trait both Fields and Lawrence have carried into their college days.

But Lawrence has the title, having led Clemson to the national championship game each of the past two years and winning it all as a freshman. Fields hasn’t made it past the semis, thanks to the Tigers’ controversial, 29-23 win in last season’s Fiesta Bowl.

“The biggest thing that I’ve learned just playing on a big stage like this is that one play can change the whole game — whatever that play may be,” Fields said this week, pointing to the targeting call on Buckeyes defensive back Shaun Wade that turned the tide in that semifinal loss. “It’s the playoffs. Every team in the country wants to be in the spot we’re in right now.”

In order to finish the job this time, Fields will need to go through his old buddy. The way this is going, it’s not the last time the two future NFLers will meet.

They can’t seem to get rid of each other, even if they tried.

“At the end of the day, it’s just fun getting the opportunity to play a team like Ohio State,” Lawrence said. “You’re playing the best of the best, and we’re excited for that opportunity. But it does make it cool the guy on the other sideline is from right down the road from me.”