Few among Sooner Nation would have expected Oklahoma to nominate just one offensive captain and one defensive captain for the 2020 season.
However, if you'd told the casual Sooner fan that there would only be one captain on either side of the football, most could have correctly guessed Creed Humphrey would represent the offense.
Odds are it would have been a lot harder for that casual fan to guess who would represent the defense. Maybe senior cornerback Tre Brown? Star defensive end Ronnie Perkins? Effervescent linebacker Caleb Kelly?
Yet Lincoln Riley chose none of the above, instead tapping homegrown defensive back Patrick Fields. A native of Tulsa, Fields isn't by any means the most experienced or the most ballyhooed member of the Oklahoma defense. But anyone surprised by the selection clearly isn't aware of the reputation that the junior free safety carries.
"What Pat has done, he’s coupled the fact that he’s played and coupled it with his ability to do things right consistently both on and off the field," said defensive coordinator Alex Grinch. "And what happens in those instances is you’ve got a voice that guys respond to. So he’s taken advantage of that. It suits him. It suits us. We need him to be that guy for us.
"Sometimes over the course of my career, you kind of cringe sometimes when you call a guy a leader, and say, ‘Wait a second, I don’t know if he does enough things right to be the leader of your defense or the leader of your position group.’ But, thrilled for him and thrilled for us that he’s a quality guy that the guys respond to."
Fields is pursuing a degree in accounting, an uncommon and challenging path for a college athlete. He's also helped take the lead in the athletic program's response to nationwide tension over racial injustice, and represented OU in a unity video produced by the Big 12 Conference.
"I believe he’s an amazing leader," said cornerback Jaden Davis of Fields. "I would vote for him three times if I could. I love Pat as a leader. He’s going to push you. He’s going to go out there and lead by example as well. He’s not going to let you slack off. He’s not going to let this team slack off. Twenty-six takeaways are the goal and he is a living testament to that in practice out there making plays. I believe Pat Fields is a key part. I believe he’ll fill that role perfectly."
Takeaways are the paramount quality of Alex Grinch's Speed D mentality. But especially amidst the wild circumstances that the year 2020 has brought, Fields' leadership in the locker room is perhaps even more crucial than his leadership on the gridiron.
"You just automatically kind of follow him and fall in line behind him," said Delarrin Turner-Yell. "And that's the type of guy that you want to lead your team... everyone on the team can relate to Pat, and Pat can relate to them. And so like I said, he's a guy who's gonna lead by example, day in and day out. You can always count on him to do the right things."
When asked what the captain duty means to him, Fields acknowledged that it's special for a variety of reasons. As an in-state product, he's grateful to hold a position of leadership at the program that he called "our professional football team" within Oklahoma borders.
"It already meant a lot to me just being an Oklahoma guy and a guy from Tulsa playing here," said Fields. "I kind of already took a lot much more pride in it, but it's huge for me because I know it's a huge honor and a privilege to be a captain of the Oklahoma Sooners. Not too many guys will ever be able to say that, but I know with that responsibility, I have a high expectation to live up to."
Despite the increased scrutiny, Fields views his greater responsibility as a blessing, and emphasized that he's taking it as a personal challenge. The Sooners' two 2019 defensive captains, Kenneth Murray and Neville Gallimore, have both moved on to the NFL. Now, all eyes turn to Fields as he attempts to fill their shoes.
"I've got to be the best representative for our team on and off the field," he continued. "I've got to contribute more to the team, I've got to be better on the field, I've got to be a better playmaker, and all the things that come with being the captain. It's huge to me; it's an honor. I can't thank my teammates or coaches enough for trusting and believing in me."
Now, it's on Fields to validate the faith that his teammates and coaches have placed in him. That mission kicks into gear this Saturday as the Sooners take on Kansas State, a team against whom Fields recorded seven tackles last season.
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