For any player at the high school level who thinks making the transition from quarterback to wide receiver is an easy proposition, E.J. Fields would like to sit down and have a heart to heart.
It's hard, says Kentucky's fifth-year senior. Real hard.
With the end of his UK career on the horizon, the former Frankfort High School standout is only now starting to feel in command of his position.
"With all the camps and spring practices I've been through, I think I can finally call myself a legitimate receiver now," Fields said. "Coming in as a quarterback from high school, it took me a while to transition.
"You really don't know the velocity of how fast the quarterbacks throw the ball until you get to this level. You don't know how hard it is with hands all in your face, your helmet shaking, and the physical nature of the game at this level. There's a lot of things that you really don't take under consideration when you first think about playing receiver. It's not easy. It takes some time to be a true receiver."
The Cats are hoping the time is now. After struggling in 2011, the UK receiver corps has been drawing much better reviews in fall camp, and Fields is a big part of the discussion.
The 6-foot-1, 200-pound Fields is currently in the mix for a starting job, something he's done only once in his 21 games at UK. After redshirting in 2008 and missing his entire freshman season due to a foot injury, he enters the new season with 10 career receptions for 89 yards and one touchdown. Most of his playing time to date has come on special teams.
"With this being my fifth year, I want to make it count," Fields said. "I've been around, I've paid my dues. I've got to go out and make it happen."
So far, the UK staff has been impressed with his performance in camp.
Asked what Fields has done to catch his eye, receivers coach Pat Washington said: "Consistently catching the ball, running routes, being a leader out front."
That leadership began in the off-season program, which Fields approached with newfound determination. He is 25 pounds heavier than when he reported to UK, but still maintains the distinction of being the Cats' fastest receiver in the 40-yard dash.
The trademark 4.4 speed he displayed in high school was at risk of disappearing after his injury in fall camp of 2009.
"I was really nervous after my surgery," he said. "It was a big scare. I know a lot of guys don't come back as fast as they were, but I was fortunate to do that. I came back 100 percent."
After showing some signs of making a push up the depth chart during spring practice, Fields kicked his workout program into overdrive this summer.
"All the hard work from the summer is paying off," he said. "All the balls I threw with the quarterbacks, all the time I spent lifting and getting stronger, it's all coming together.
"Not just throwing the ball back and forth, but working on the routes and timing of certain situations – third-down catches, stuff like that, trying to prepare myself mentally for how it's going to be in the game."
It's one thing to do it in the spring and summer, Washington is quick to point out.
"E.J. did a really good job in the off-season," he said. "He's done everything leading up to the game. Now I want to see it in the game."
Fields loves playing for Washington, who was hired to take the place of another popular UK assistant, Tee Martin, who took a job on Lane Kiffin's staff at Southern Cal in the winter.
"He's very motivating, very encouraging," Fields said of Washington, who has also coached receivers at Tennessee and Mississippi State, among other stops in his 25-year career. "You want to go out and play hard for him. I think it's really helped our confidence as a group."
After Fields scored a touchdown in Saturday's scrimmage at Commonwealth Stadium, Kentucky offensive coordinator Randy Sanders surmised that natural maturation and a healthy dose of competition from this year's signees, DeMarcus Sweat and A.J. Legree, have sparked Fields to new heights.
"He's a fifth-year senior, and we've got a couple of good freshmen nipping at his heels," Sanders said. "It's amazing how that competition makes everybody better. E.J. has always had ability. It's just a matter of doing it, and doing it consistently. Sometimes when you've got somebody behind you trying to get your job, it makes you a little more consistent."
Fields has also been driven by the criticism his unit faced last season.
"We know we're better than what we showed on the field last year," he said. "We're determined to prove it to ourselves that we can be the offense we know we can be.
"Nobody likes to be talked down upon. People can say they don't pay attention to it, but you do. I remember how bad people said we were last year. I'll never forget it. But that's why I've been working so hard in the off-season. I'm playing with a chip on my shoulder."
Fields coming on strong at wide receiver
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