Ohio State fans have heard the same spring chorus for five years. No, not robins chirping after a trip south to Florida for the winter. It started with Jim Tressel and continued with Urban Meyer. March and April have meant showering praise on Chris Fields.
But when August, September, October and November roll around, Fields has been noticeably absent from the picture. That view could be changing. On Saturday, the fifth-year senior caught two touchdown passes, caught a team-high tying three passes and graded out an offensive champion – a weekly goal.
Fields came to Ohio State after a standout high school career in Painesville. His athleticism and burst of speed were often mentioned as on-field assets. Results were few and far between, though. Entering the season, Fields had 191 receiving yards and one touchdown, albeit a big one – to keep the Buckeyes’ undefeated record intact against Purdue. His other highlight was a punt return for a touchdown against Toledo in 2011.
Still, Fields never consistently delivered when Ohio State could use another playmaker. His level of play was so lackluster that he only played two games in 2010 and 2012. Fields called it a reality check.
“Hey, this competition is heavy,” he said. “You’ve got to stick with it and stay positive. There’s a lot of stress that goes into this, and a lot of players quit on themselves.”
Meyer had much harsher words.
“Chris Fields wasn’t in the top 50 for playing a game last year,” he said bluntly.
There were murmurs of a transfer, though Fields debunked those assertions, saying he would never give up on his teammates or the university. Neither he nor Meyer gave up.
“I was thinking too much about on and off the field stuff,” Fields admitted during the spring. “I wasn’t really glued into my right mindset. When you go through adversity, you try to overcome it and try to work harder. That’s what I’ve been doing each year. Every time I go through something, I always keep a positive mentality that there’s always going to be a light at the end of the tunnel.”
A man-to-man talk between receiver and coach following last season contributed to Fields’ new outlook. He rededicated himself and worked diligently throughout the offseason, harder than ever before as the realization that this was his final hurrah.
“Chris Fields wasn’t in the top 50 for playing a game last year.”
The first signs of a new Chris Fields surfaced during spring practice. Fields said Meyer told him his role on the team wasn’t going well and better players would soon be arriving, motivating him to become a difference maker.
The entire spring became Fields’ proving ground, and he delivered. The final act was 46 total yards and a touchdown in the spring game. Meyer named him a starter at his postgame press conference.
“When Coach said I had the starting position, I wanted to make sure that every day I come out with the mentality that I’m a starter,” Fields said. “This is my last year, so I want to make sure it’s my best.”
Game 1 was one giant leap for Fields.
“One of the most improved players on our team,” Meyer said. “He’s involved in special teams, but we kind of have a rule around here that you can’t play unless you’re involved in special teams, and he’s really done a nice job.
“I admire Chris Fields. He’s just playing his tail off and doing a lot of things for us, and he's doing it all right, too.”
If you want to talk versatility, Fields’ name is near the top of the list. He’s been everywhere on the field – offense, all special teams units – except defense. As Meyer alluded to, his philosophy is prove yourself first on special teams, a task Fields managed with aplomb.
“If you can't make the tackle on coverage, you can’t catch the pass on offense,” special teams coordinator Kerry Coombs said.
Complacency was a buzzword on Monday at the Woody Hayes Athletic Center. Meyer said the dreaded noun won’t descend upon his team this week – or at any time. Fields concurred from a personal standpoint.
One good game doesn’t erase the memory of the previous underwhelming three seasons. In case competition isn’t already instilled into the players, the coaching staff sends a message by putting positions on the line in practice.
“Sometimes if you don’t have a good day, that guy behind you can go in front of you,” Fields said.
A contributing role in a national championship season would expunge any bad feelings that linger for Fields. He’s aware that his career didn’t go down the path he aimed for. However, it’s no reason to sulk or diminish his fives years at Ohio State.
“You’ve got to grasp all the memories you have here and take advantage of what you have in front of you,” Fields said. “This is my last go-around. I have to make sure I make the best of it.”