He has only been with the West Virginia University football team for a short time, but linebacker Tony Fields II is already making a big impact.
Fields came to WVU during the offseason as a graduate transfer from the University of Arizona. West Virginia head coach Neal Brown said he wanted to bring Fields in to be WVU’s “train stopper”.
“These trains, they keep rolling and something’s got to stop it. Either a brake or you’ve got to put something out in front of it to stop these trains,” Brown explained. “I told Tony, ‘hey listen, we need a train stopper. We need somebody, when things are going bad, that they can answer the call of adversity and somebody that can show our young football players how to respond to adversity’.”
Fields has stepped right into WVU’s starting lineup and has led the Mountaineers in tackling through the first three games this season. He had a team-leading 19 tackles in the team’s first two games and added 10 more in WVU’s double-overtime victory over Baylor Saturday afternoon. He’s also put up two tackles for loss and an interception so far in 2020.
Baylor has its own impact linebacker in junior Terrel Bernard. Bernard led the Bears with 13 tackles and intercepted WVU quarterback Jarret Doege. Brown said he sees a lot of similarities between Fields and Bernard.
“I don’t know if they would be what you would call ‘prototypical mike linebackers’ but what they are is, mike linebackers in today’s game,” Brown explained. “The thing about those guys, they can play out of the box…they can play in the box, they do a good job of taking on blocks and running around [blocks], they can drop in coverage. And what makes them difficult to play against is, in both schemes they. move around a lot.”
WVU’s defense held the Bears to just 256 yards of offense Saturday. The Mountaineers sacked Baylor quarterback Charlie Brewer six times and intercepted him twice. WVU’s defensive linemen combined to make 16 tackles, 6.5 tackles for a loss and 4.5 sacks. Fields said it is his job to get the defensive line set and then make any plays that get past them.
“A good linebacker just adds good leadership to a defense,” Fields said. “What he’s supposed to do is get the front end set. As a linebacker, you’ve got to make most of the plays beyond the defensive linemen.”
Fields plays mike linebacker in WVU’s defense, a position that carries a lot of importance.
“That’s your quarterback,” WVU defensive line coach Jordan Lesley said. “He’s the communicator, he’s the adjuster, he gets things lined up, he’s the one that makes a wrong fit right.”
Speaking with the media Tuesday afternoon, Fields explained all the responsibilities he has as the middle linebacker.
“Being a linebacker at West Virginia, especially mike linebacker, I have to make all the calls as far as looking to the sideline and finding out the down and distance and finding out the play call and then relaying that to the defensive linemen and I also have to make sure they’re set,” Fields explained. “It’s a big responsibility, playing linebacker.”
When a player can handle all of those responsibilities and still play the position at a high level it provides a big boost to the entire defense.
“They’ve got to be able to get in coverage, they’ve got to be able to rush the passer, they’ve got to be able to fit run gaps,” WVU defensive backs coach Jahmile Addae said. “When you’ve got a guy to be able to do all three and really do it in an elite fashion, it makes you better, not only on the front end, but on the back end.”
Addae, who coached at Arizona from 2013-2017, was the one who recruited Fields to the Wildcats originally. Fields was no stranger to this kind of production while at Arizona. In his three seasons playing with the Wildcats, he finished first or second on the team in tackles all three years and had yearly totals of 104, 89 and 94 tackles, respectively.
He said he decided to transfer as a way to get a fresh start.
“I just decided it was best for me to move on and try to go to a different team to try and help my career,” Fields said. “I love the school, I had a great relationship with coach Addae already.”
As valuable as Fields has been on the field so far, Neal Brown said he has been just as valuable to the team off the field as well.
His on-the-field play has been tremendous, but for the last three weeks his off-the-field contributions have been very big for us as well,” Brown said. “He’s always cognizant of how young we are and what kind of example he’s setting.”