Fields Ready To Hit His Stride

Whenever watching Elijah Fields make a play -- the quickness with which he reacts and power he has to make a stop -- whether it was during practices this past spring or so far in summer training camp, it's easy to wonder what could have been for the redshirt sophomore strong safety.

An immense talent with the size (6-foot-2, 222 pounds) and speed (4.5 seconds in the 40-yard dash) to be an All-American and eventually play in the NFL, Elijah Fields has not been able to make much of an impact on the field at Pittsburgh. In fact, his story has been written more off of it.

Those incidents, primarily mischievous and disciplinary in nature, but not malicious, forced the Panthers coach to cut Fields playing time as a freshman and suspend him for all of last season. Now in his third season in the program, Fields appears to finally be ready to

"It's a really big year for me after sitting out last season, so it's important for me to get back into the flow of things,'' Fields said. "But everything's going good so far. (But) it was a big attitude adjustment for me.

"I've got things going the right way now and have put that past stuff behind me. I'm ready to move forward. So, I've just got to do what I've been doing my whole life, get out there and play football.''

In all fairness to Fields, he has been incident free since last season. He got through the redshirt season, although it had to be tough for him to be on the scout team, and he's worked hard during the offseason "training extra with Buddy'' Morris. If that doesn't get a player ready for the season, nothing will.

"I lifted four times a week (in the offseason), so he pushed me pretty hard. And I got a lot stronger and faster, and I'm mentally stronger now, too, with help from (Pitt secondary) coach (Jeff) Hafley.

"He's a very good guy, but he stays on me hard. He texts me all the time to make sure I'm doing the right thing, going to class, keeping up with my academics and things like that. So, it's a good deal.''

While Hafley certainly would prefer to credit Fields himself for the turnaround, the former Pitt graduate assistant certainly deserves the majority. He worked with Fields almost the minute he was on the Panthers staff. In fact, Fields sort of became his pet project.

"My first two years as a grad assistant here, I worked closely with Elijah,'' Hafley said. "I spent a lot of extra time with him. I ate lunch with him and went over things with him, so we got really close. For the most part, he was receptive, sometimes more than others. But he's been good this year.

"And he's very receptive right now. I think he feels a sense of urgency this season, that it's time for him to put all that stuff behind him and start playing football. I really hope he makes a contribution, but we have a lot of young guys in the secondary and more depth now. And that competition makes everybody better in our secondary at both safety and cornerback.''

With fifth-year senior Eric Thatcher at free safety and sophomore Dom DeCicco battling Fields for the starting strong safety spot, Hafley and defensive coordinator Phil Bennett have three talented players to deal with. All three are working with calling Pitt's defensive signals from the secondary, and the entire group might end up on the field at the same time.

"I think it's more of a way to work us all in there,'' Fields said. "That's the best way for us to help the team win, so it's a good thing. I bring the cover ability, closing to the ball good and all those things. (But) I have to dig down deep inside and pull it out of me to be (aggressive) on the field.

"I like that, though, and I just want to help the team out so we can have a winning season and hopefully get to a good bowl game. We worked extra hard in the weight room to prepare for this camp, but now we have to play. For me, I'm just trying to get back into the flow. I'm just taking it practice by practice.''

While Fields is a physical specimen, especially after "losing my baby fat,'' he hasn't been able to show that ability too often on the field. But both he and Hafley believed that there was no time like the present for Fields to contribute.

"Elijah is a great athlete, and he's strong,'' Hafley said. "He's another guy, like cornerback Buddy Jackson, who can jump through the roof and run fast. We have to find a way to get them on the field. He had a very good offseason, and he's doing the right things. So, I really hope he can contribute this year.

"It's time for him to show it on the field. Camp is here, and he needs to do that, to show us what he can do on the field and in the classroom. Show up on time, maybe stay a little later, and keep doing all the right things. But he's done that so far. He's done everything that we've asked him to do.''

And instead of dreaming about what might have been for Fields, it could finally be his time to shine.

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