On Arizona State’s key onside kick in Saturday’s home win over Oregon, freshman Evan Fields made the perfect play on the ball to shift serious momentum into his team’s favor.
But he wasn’t necessarily supposed to be the one getting there first. The way the play had been drawn, freshman kicker Brandon Ruiz was prepared to fall on the ball once it crossed the 45-yard line.
“The ball went ten yards,” Fields said. “I didn’t care who got it, I just wanted to get the ball back. It was right there so I dove on it.”
Nonetheless, Fields’ play to recover the onside kick was, for all intents and purposes, his first major touch as a college athlete.
It was a pretty satisfying one, to say the least.
“It was my first big play in college football,” he said. “That definitely boosts my confidence because I always feel like these guys in college, they’re just the same as me, and I can dominate them like I dominated people in high school.
During fall camp, Fields was held out with an injury after having been touted as one of the top players in ASU’s 2017 recruiting class. According to Rivals, Fields was listed as a top-50 safety in the country, with a three-star rating out of Midwest City, Oklahoma.
After a difficult handful of weeks spent almost entirely on the sidelines, Fields’ return to action — even on special teams, which obviously isn’t his primary position — has been a welcomed step in the right direction.
“I feel pretty good,” he said. “This is the best I’ve felt since I’ve been here. I came in, had a little nagging injury, but it’s starting to go away now so I’m starting to get back into things.”
Leading up to this point, though, wasn’t the easiest for Fields.
“It was (frustrating),” he said. “I felt like I had a good opportunity to come in and make an impact, but I knew it would just take some time, and now I’m starting to get back on track.”
Having gotten back to full playing strength, Fields has seen his role increase from special teams.
In practice this week, Fields took reps at safety with the second team for the first time, as he hopes to see some time in the defensive backfield Saturday at Stanford.
“It feels good,” he said of the extra defensive reps. “I think I’ve got a good grasp on things now, they were taking time to let me watch and learn stuff, and now that I’ve got a pretty good grasp on the defense, they starting to get me ready to play.”
The ways Fields has been able to contribute in other ways outside of his primary position haven’t gone unnoticed by his head coach.
Todd Graham spoke highly of his freshman safety, referencing the bright potential he sees — potential which ASU will undoubtedly need to tap into in order to continue to improve its developing secondary.
“He’s shown a lot of flashes,” Graham said. “He’s a great athlete. He’s got to learn what he’s doing, he’s playing a lot of special teams, I think he’s getting closer. I think he’ll increase how much he gets to play, but he’s going to be a guy that’s going to be impactful. We need him to progress quickly.”
Entering ASU’s first Pac-12 road game against Stanford, the emphasis defensively will be on junior running back Bryce Love and a ground-and-pound offensive style deployed by the Cardinals.
Fresh off of a 263-yard outburst in last week’s defeat of UCLA, Love — the nation’s leading rusher with 787 yards — will mark the third back the Sun Devils have faced out of the nation’s current top five, with San Diego State’s Rashaad Penny at second and Oregon’s Royce Freeman at fifth.
In terms of what to expect from a play-calling standpoint, the ASU secondary — as Fields attested — will need to focus largely on open-field tackling and reading keys from the offensive line.
“They expect to come in and bully us,” Fields said. “We can’t let them do that. It’s much different than last week. If the guy on the line scrimmage stands up, you know he’s pass blocking, he comes down he’s run blocking.”
Fields, though, isn’t afraid of coming up from the secondary and making a play when called upon.
“I just love playing,” he said. “You’re going to face different types of players every week. Coming up and hitting, I love the physical part of the game, I also love covering people, that’s fun. All in all, I just love everything about it.”
And thanks to what he’s shown his defensive coordinator, Phil Bennett, he’ll be playing significant snaps of the game he loves — at the position in which he thrives — in the near future.
“He’s talented, extremely talented,” Bennett said. “Athletic, smart, trustworthy, he had that injury, his camp is going on right now. Every day, about six o’clock, we’re in meetings, he knocks on the door, he wants to learn. He’s a guy we’re going to get ready to play, sooner rather than later.”