Elijah Fields has the talent to be a special football player, but he hasn't always had the focus.
Some of his choices off the field have held him back, and he appeared to be following a path of many talented athletes who failed to fulfill their potential.
But the light apparently has gone on for Fields, who starred at Duquesne High School and had an up-and-down career at Pitt. He is back on the field grinding away and hoping somebody gives him a chance to prove he has matured and can, at last, be the player many thought he would be after high school.
"I was 19, 20 years old back then and I know I made some real bad decisions and did some dumb things, but that was a long time ago," said Fields, who was dismissed from Pitt's football team in the spring of 2010 before his senior season.
"You go through stuff, you grow up, you mature and you have to move on. I've learned a lot through it all, I'm just ready for what is next for me."
Fields was suspended several times and in the coaches' doghouse many times at Pitt for various violations of rules. He was late for meetings, had a poor attitude and used marijuana.
But Fields, 25, said he has been on the straight and narrow for three years and recently completed an excellent season with the Green Bay Blizzard of the nine-team Indoor Football League. He hopes his performance will lead to an opportunity to achieve his ultimate dream: playing in the NFL.
He played in 12 of the Blizzard's 14 games and had 90 solo tackles, 10 tackles for losses and two interceptions and was named the team's defensive MVP. He also was named to the league's all-star team.
The season was special, and Fields played linebacker, safety and cornerback. That was by design, Blizzard coach Chad Baldwin said, because players with Fields' ability don't come around very often.
"As soon as I watched him work out, I knew we had something special and I created a unique position for him," Baldwin said. "He is a guy who, given his size [6 feet 2, 220 pounds] and athletic ability and speed, has that unique ability to play linebacker, strong safety but also run with receivers, so I had him play what we called the smash strong safety."
Fields believes he has done enough on and off the field since the end of his troubled college career to get a tryout with an NFL or Canadian Football League team. He has had a few discussions with the Green Bay Packers and Tampa Bay Buccaneers but has yet to get an offer.
Baldwin believes that will change soon.
"I told him at the end of the season I don't expect to see him next year and not because I don't want him -- if he wants to come back, obviously, he is here "With the tape he has now and his athletic ability, I think he could become a ferocious, an extremely ferocious strong safety in the outdoor game, and I know if someone gives him an opportunity to work out they will at least bring him to camp and give him a chance to compete for a job.
"And if they asked me about his attitude or his maturity I'd say this -- in the nearly seven months we had him here, I saw him grow and make huge improvements. He developed patience and really learned how to fight through things and worked hard to understand the schemes and was a great team player."
As an example, Baldwin said Fields had a bad contusion on his upper thigh but insisted on playing in the Blizzard's final game of the season in June even though the team was out of playoff contention.
"A lot of guys would not have played with their leg in that condition. It was very painful," Baldwin said. "It really said a lot to me about his commitment level and his fight that he really worked hard to come back from that in time to play the last game."
Fields, who failed in attempts to enroll at North Alabama and then California University of Pa., after leaving Pitt, played for Cedar Rapids of the IFL in 2012 just to get back into football. His season was shortened by a broken hand, although he registered 49 tackles in only seven games as a safety. After the season, he was traded to Green Bay. It turned out to be a great step for him as Baldwin, also the defensive coordinator, built his defense around Fields.
Fields said he will continue to work out hard every day and try to improve himself as well as make a better life for his two children. He said working with children and raising his own have led him to try to become a good role model.
Fields, who made $250 per game in the IFL, has spent a lot of his free time in the past three years working with the youth football league in Duquesne..
"I sat out of nearly three years of football -- when you lose something you love you realize how important it is to you and that motivates you to work even harder to get it back," Fields said. "But, really, it isn't just about football, I want to be a good role model for my kids and other kids as well, I want to help kids realize their dreams and avoid the mistakes I've made and get them off the streets, help them avoid the path I had to go on.
"I really love football, I just want a chance to move up, I don't care where."
Paul Zeise: firstname.lastname@example.org and Twitter @paulzeise. First Published July 18, 2013 4:00 AM