The curious career of DeVonte’ Fields

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    On April 29, 2011, the star defensive end of Arlington Martin High School officially committed to the purple and white of the TCU Horned Frog football team.

    “[He’s] really one of the most disruptive defensive lineman that the state had to offer,” Arlington Martin head coach Bob Wager said of his former player in Jan. 2012.

    Wager’s star, DeVonte’ Fields, ran down high school quarterbacks with the best of them in those days, using his large frame and surprising agility to rack up 13 sacks during a memorable senior year.

    “He’s got a great first two steps, and, if you’re not out of your stance in two steps, then he’ll be in the backfield,” Wager said.

    District 4-5A Defensive Player of the Year. First team All-State. ESPN All-American.

    These were just some of the accolades the athletic phenom earned. Plenty of schools hoped he would be wearing their colors in the fall, but only one could win this prized jewel.

    With offers from Oklahoma, Texas A&M, Michigan and Tennessee on the table, the highlight reel personified instead chose to stay close to home.

    Little did Fields or Big 12-bound TCU know, this day marked the beginning of a very memorable college career, which culminated in a bitter third act.

    No First Year Jitters

    As one of the highest-rated recruits to ever join the Frogs, expectations of Fields were high from the get-go.

    TCU head coach Gary Patterson chose talent over experience early on, starting Fields for the Frogs’ first game of the 2012 campaign, a 56-0 pounding of Grambling State.

    The win not only debuted the newly renovated Amon G. Carter Stadium and made Patterson the all-time winningest coach in program history, but also served as an introduction to TCU’s newest big name.

    Playing opposite current Atlanta Falcons end Stansly Maponga, Fields dominated, mustering up three tackles for loss and his first collegiate sack in the blowout.

    Though the team itself struggled that year following quarterback Casey Pachall’s high-profile DWI, TCU’s prized four-star recruit looked less like a freshman and more like a star in the making.

    In his team’s biggest win of the season, a 20-14 Thanksgiving victory over the Texas Longhorns in Austin, Texas, Fields registered his biggest sack of the year.

    Production was certainly not a problem during Fields’ first year. He posted 53 total tackles, 18.5 tackles for loss, two forced fumbles and one interception during TCU’s inaugural Big 12 season.

    Just like high school, Fields’ performance on the field led to plenty of accolades by season’s end.

    Two All-Big 12 first team selections, Big 12 Defensive Freshman of the Year honors and the most impressive of the bunch: Associated Press Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year.

    Not bad for a teenager.

    Sophomore Struggles

    When 2013 rolled around, Fields appeared ready to dominate his second year and cement his name alongside TCU’s long list of superb defenders.

    Instead, a string of incidents defined Fields moreso than his play, the first of which arrived in the summer before Fields’ sophomore season.

    Patterson announced in May that Fields had been suspended due to a violation of university and team policies, and he would miss the first two games of the year.

    “A righteous man loses also,” Patterson said.

    When the season opener against LSU rolled around a few months later, TCU debuted brand new uniforms. The model of the Frogs’ fresh look was none other than Fields.

    Much would then be made about whether or not Patterson would honor Fields’ suspension in a big game against the Tigers, and though Fields suited up, he did not play.

    During the suspension, Fields completed 135 hours of community service and worked at food banks, Patterson said.

    The reigning Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year eventually got the start in the third game against Texas Tech, but a fourth quarter foot fracture prematurely ended his sophomore campaign.

    “It’s hard for him because he’s frustrated, because he hasn’t played to the level he can because of his foot and everything else going on,” Patterson said in October.

    Though Fields’ limited play resulted in medical redshirt status, questions began to arise of whether Fields would ever be the same player.

    In the blink of an eye, Fields had gone from a sure thing to a question mark; just another victim of a dismal 2013 campaign that saw the Frogs finish 4-8.

    Down and Up Again

    Less than a month into the new year, more questions rose as Fields became involved in one of the scarier stories of the 2014 offseason.

    Three suspects allegedly attacked Fields at his off-campus home before stealing his cellphone and Xbox.

    Fields told police one of the suspects threatened him with a semi-automatic pistol before he grabbed the suspect’s forearm.

    Five shots were fired in the air before the suspects fled in a black Honda. When police arrived, Fields did not consent to a police search of his home and told them he didn’t want to press charges.

    Off-the-field issues happen at most schools, but Fields’ latest incident seemed to strike a chord with fans of a Christian school trying to escape a prior history of scandal.

    In response to some of his detractors, Fields sent out a single tweet.

    “Everything happens for a reason,” senior defensive tackle Chucky Hunter said of Fields’ incidents. “He was doing everything a college athlete or a college student would do. He was just younger, and he was on top of his game.”

    By March, most had forgotten about the odd incident, and a now-healthy Fields finally had a chance to focus on his game in spring football.

    He did not fail to impress.

    Fields appeared refocused and recommitted to his craft, impressing in the spring game and proving that he should still be feared on the field.

    “Best he’s looked since he’s been a freshman,” Patterson said after a spring practice.

    Once again, Fields appeared ready to return to greatness and fulfill his destiny as the second coming of Jerry Hughes, an outside linebacker for the Buffalo Bills who had 28.5 sacks in his four-year career with the Frogs.

    Hard work in the spring paid off as media members ignored the questions and selected Fields as Preseason Big 12 Defensive of the Year, a move that surprised some during the recent Big 12 Media Days.

    “I was kind of surprised DeVonte’ Fields was preseason because he hadn’t played a year ago,” Patterson said.

    Hunter said he also felt surprised, but expressed happiness for his teammate.

    “I’m kinda surprised, but I’m grateful he got that,” Hunter said. “I’m happy for him and, hopefully, he can just step up to it.”

    A fellow member of TCU’s highly regarded defensive front, the senior said he wanted to treat Fields as his younger brother during all the troubles.

    “Be a shoulder for him,” he said. “That’s all you could do. Just bring him by your own wing. You can’t just judge [someone] about what they did in the past. You just see the future and move forward.”

    Hunter eventually praised Fields for growing up; words that would ring ironic yet heartbreaking less than 24 hours later.

    “He’s changed a lot,” Hunter said. “Everything became important to him…I feel like he grew up as a person.”

    “Everything he did was a big explosion. I feel like he’s calmed back down, recognized that we still have to be levelheaded as a whole group. I feel like he’s back to normal.”

    The Final Straw

    The second day of the Big 12 Media Days had barely begun when news of another Fields incident hit social media.

    This time, Fields was not the victim. He was the suspect.

    TCU student Haley Brown told police that on July 20, 2014 Fields pointed a gun at her and yelled “I should blast you!” before punching her in the face.

    She was reportedly visiting the home of Fields’ teammate, cornerback Kevin White, when the ex-MVP allegedly showed up hurling insults.

    The initial police report broke July 22, and TCU took swift action: indefinitely separating Fields from the university before lunchtime.

    Charged with misdemeanor assault and facing possible prison time, Fields surrendered to the Fort Worth Police Department on July 24 and quickly posted a $3,500 bond.

    Brown later formally recanted her original statement that Fields was carrying a gun.

    The team met for the first practice of the 2014 training camp Aug. 4, and no. 95 remained out of sight but still on the roster.

    Two days after his team took the field, Fields took to social media to answer the question on everyone’s mind: would Fields ever wear purple and white again?

    Fields would don purple and white again, but not for TCU. His curious career would instead continue at Stephen F. Austin.

    No longer a Frog, Fields was a Lumberjack.

    Or so it seemed.

    The former Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year quickly found out about an NCAA rule which would force him to sit out a year for the Jacks.

    Fields later decided not to enroll at SFA, hoping for a chance to play football in 2014, which he could still do at the junior college level.

    As a final nail in the coffin, TCU announced Fields’ then-tentative separation from the university was permanent, and he was officially removed from the team roster on Aug. 14.

    Fields’ time with his old squad officially came to a bitter end.

    TCU took the football field several times without Fields last season, and they’ll do so again for many more to come. Though they’ve lost an unmistakable talent, defense reigned supreme in Fort Worth long before Fields’ arrival.

    With a bevy of talent on the defensive line and a defensive guru manning the helm, the football team appears poised to move on from the DeVonte’ Fields era.

    Fields appears ready for a fresh start as well. Still an apple in the eye of many draft scouts with first-round talent, TCU’s old flame can take this year to prepare for a career in the National Football League.

    All the same, few will ever forget the impact Fields left on his former program: an extremely talented young man marred by controversy and a shameful finale.