Elijah Fields: "I'm A Safety!''

Elijah Fields wanted to make one thing perfectly clear: He's a safety, even though the 6-foot-2, 225-pound redshirt sophomore quickly added that he could play cornerback or linebacker if necessary.

And at times in the Pittsburgh defense, Elijah Fields gets that opportunity. That occasion occurred during the Panthers' win at Notre Dame this past week, and it could happen again when No. 25 Pitt (6-2, 2-1) takes on Louisville (5-3, 1-2) Saturday at noon at Heinz Field.

But it wasn't the case at all when the Panthers were at Navy Oct. 18, and it rarely happened when they played host to Rutgers the next week.

"It felt real good to get back in the mix, being out there and helping my team to a victory,'' Fields said. "I'm getting very comfortable now. ... We have a good package where I have an opportunity to play linebacker, but also drop back into coverage. I think it can help us out a lot the rest of the season.

"I play linebacker in the nickel package and press, man-to-man like a corner, in the Bandit package. But for me, just getting out there, every chance that I get to get on the field, I like it. ... We've got about four different packages, so there's a lot to learn. But Coach Hafley's working with me, so it's not tough.''

Fields has played in seven of Pitt's eight games this season with starts against Iowa and at Syracuse, and he has nine tackles with one pass breakup.

"It's pretty tough when I don't get in there, but I just keep my head up and keep working hard,'' Fields said. "I know I'm going to get an opportunity to play, and when that happens I have to take advantage of it. My freshman year, I pretty much wasn't focused. I probably would have packed it up and wanted to leave. But since I'm matured, I know I just have to stick it out.

"I talked to (former Duquesne HS) coach Montel Staples a lot, and he told me just to hang in there and keep my head up and keep working hard. And my mom has helped me out a lot, too. I talk to her every night, and she tells me to keep working hard. Something will come out of it. (But) I knew my time was coming. I just had to step up and make some plays when I got the chance.''

Fields made his presence known several times at Notre Dame, recording three tackles with one solo and a half stop behind the line. He also recovered a botched punt return attempt by T.J. Porter.

"Elijah played really good,'' Pitt coach Dave Wannstedt said. "Elijah stepped up and was involved in three or four different defensive packages. ... What we saw from Elijah Fields was very encouraging, and to see him get back in the mix was good. He played about 75 percent of the plays and on special teams.''

Fields believed he was in the right place at the right time.

"I just tried to step up to make a big play,'' Fields said. "Big-time players make big-time plays, so that's what I tried to do. ... I pretty much saw the ball the whole time, because I knocked my guy over and was looking at T.J. When I saw the ball go through his legs, I just said 'I've got to go get it.' So, I hustled to the ball and got on it.''

Fields did everything at Class A Duquesne High School and was a scholastic All-American as a defensive back. He also returned punts, but never was given a shot to do that for the Panthers.

"They have a deal with my size, but I think I still have the ability to return punts,'' Fields said. "I guess they recruit guys like Aundre Wright and Cameron Saddler for that. ... I still feel pretty fast, and I think I'm faster since I keep working hard with Buddy. I'm going to get faster.''

Until that time, Fields must be content with playing in special defensive packages and working on the punt and kickoff return teams. He's in the back group on punts and the front line on kickoffs.

"Scoot (Fields) did play a lot at Notre Dame, but I was in for a different package, one so we could get an extra DB in there,'' freshman Andrew Taglianetti said. "I think Coach Bennett has a lot of faith in both of us out there.

"I'm sure Scoot's going to continue to make plays, and I just hope I'm able to keep it up, too. (But) Scoot's a great player. He's just so instinctive. He's big like a linebacker and can run like a DB.''

But make no mistake, Fields is a safety.

"I'll play anywhere they need me, but I'm a safety,'' Fields said. "Don't get it wrong. I'm a safety. ... I guess I could grow into a linebacker, but I'm going to work hard in the offseason to get down to 215. But I could play linebacker.''

And don't forget about cornerback, too.

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