Aug. 12, 1999
Turlock, CA - It might surprise some to hear how little excitement there is from Marcus Fields or his coaches about his performance as a sophomore last season.
One might think that finishing as the sixth leading rusher in the Pac-10, putting together four 100-yard games including a pair against two of the nation's best rush defenses in Arizona and Oklahoma, and scoring more touchdowns (6) than anybody else on the team, while playing with a gimpy ankle all year, would elicit compliments of the highest order.
It speaks volumes about his own personal expectations and his enormous potential as a tailback that the 1998 season left Fields unsatisfied.
"I thought I played OK, but it's not a season I was particularly proud of," said Fields. "I have much higher goals this year."
"Marcus came in and met with me the week after our last game and he told me that he wasn't happy with the way he played and was going to dedicate himself to making himself a great football player in 1999," said running back coach Ron Gould. "I knew for sure something had changed when I called him at his home in Stockton during the Christmas break. It was his tone of voice. He was real serious, saying he was lifting hard and was really focused on making himself better.
"He has so many tools, he can be as good as he wants to be and we're all excited to see him in such great shape this summer. I think he's ready for a breakthrough season."
Fields played last year at between 195 and 197 pounds. When he checked in for his annual physical earlier this week, the scale read 219 pounds. And he still looks lean with not an ounce of fat on his body. When you combine 6-2 height with that type of bulk, and a 4.45 clocking in the 40, you're looking at a rare combination of power and speed.
It's also why Fields wants so much more than the 734 rushing yards he rung up last season. He's a quiet young man who isn't given much to bragging or making outrageous predictions. However, he has said he wants to challenge for the Pac-10 rushing title and perhaps the Cal school season rushing record this fall. "I think I can challenge for the No. 1 spot in the conference, but there's so many factors that come into that. I feel like I'm capable of a big year."
Head coach Tom Holmoe also believes Fields can make a splash this season. "I think the new offense will help Marcus, because we're going to spread the ball around more and defenses won't be able to key on him as much," said Holmoe. "Last season, he was getting hit in the backfield an awful lot, before he could even get to line of scrimmage and establish any momentum. We'll keep people more off-balance this season and that should help open some holes for him. When he sees daylight, he's gone."
Even with an offensive line that struggled last season, Fields did manage a very respectable campaign. He keyed Cal wins over Oklahoma and USC with big fourth quarter performances. With Cal facing a 12-10 deficit before a hostile crowd at Norman, OK, Cal called upon Fields for a pair of 24-yard runs to key a 60-yard drive that resulted in a winning field goal with just under six minutes left in the game. Three weeks later, Fields scored the go-ahead touchdown with 3:30 left in the game at USC. Then, when Cal had to run out the final 2:56 of the game, he contributed first-down runs of 21 and 7 yards to help Cal earn a 32-31 victory in front of 65,000 fans in Los Angeles.
He finished with 140 yards (21 carries) against Oklahoma, had 82 yards (19 carries) against USC and was also impressive against UCLA (118 yards on 27 carries), Arizona State (101 yards on 6 carries) and Arizona (117 yards on 18 carries). But he also had five games in which he had less than 30 yards on the ground.
His challenge is obvious - turn those big days into an every week occurrence. With a revamped offensive line, his additional size and power and a new attitude, he's quite capable of exciting a lot of people in college football this fall. Maybe even himself.