"It feels good to be back,'' Elijah Fields said. "It was a long time, but now I've just got to do the right things to help my team out this year. It was real tough, but I had my family behind me. And I was thinking positive. And now, it's time to play again, so I'm ready. ... It'll all pay off at the end.''
Fields noted that while it was difficult to watch the Panthers perform last season, knowing he could help them if he just got the chance, there were several positive influences around him to help him stay positive and motivated. Along with his teammates, new Pittsburgh secondary coach, Jeff Hafley -- a grad assistant the two previous years -- took Fields under his wing.
"He's such a special athlete, and when he first got here he and I kind of took to each other,'' Hafley said. "So, I've worked with him a little extra and spent some time with him after practice, before practice and in the meeting rooms. He's a good kid, and he's doing the right thing right now.
"He's practicing hard, and he's doing everything we've asked him to do. He's been down a tough road, but he's battling back and I was able to be there for him. And he's been following me now. He's very coachable and accountable, and we're definitely going to need him this year.''
Pitt coach Dave Wannstedt has described the 6-foot-2, 215-pound Fields as "one of the better athletes on our football team,'' and he's also among the strongest in the weight room for his size. Pitt fans everywhere are hopeful that Fields finally can roam the secondary this season.
"I think we have a good situation there (at safety),'' Wannstedt said. "We moved Sherod Murdock from corner to safety. So, we've got a young kid there who hasn't played much, but he has good athletic ability. We've got Eric Thatcher, who is a returning starter.
Dom DeCicco probably had as good an offseason as any of our guys from a strength and a quickness improvement. And, then, we have Elijah Fields back. ... You'd like to have more experience, but I know that Dom and Elijah are both tough guys, and they're good athletes. So, they'll learn. It's going to be an interesting spring.''
Fields has been among the early arrivals on the field the first two days during spring practice, and he appears to be fitting in just fine. But one wouldn't expect anything less from Fields, who said he never thought about giving up.
"I've been down most of my life, but I've worked my way back up,'' Fields said. "I just have to take advantage of my opportunities and do the right things so I could play. I'm playing for a lot of people, so I feel like I let my community down, my family, my teammates, my coaches.
"So, it's time to do the right thing. (But) everything's going great. I'm getting a feel for the new defense and a new coach, so I should be all right. It was real hard (watching the games), but I just tried to stay positive and stay focused to keep it going.''
A redshirt sophomore, Fields is battling sophomore DeCicco for Pitt's starting strong safety position. Fifth-year senior Thatcher is the starting free safety.
"Me and Dom are like best friends,'' Fields said. "In high school, we played basketball against each other, and I go out to TJ (Thomas Jefferson High School) to help his dad out with the basketball team.''
Fields says there's no hard feelings between the two now, just a friendly competition. But if the two got together one-on-one on the basketball court, that's another story. That probably would be a real battle.
"That's a tough one,'' Fields said. "I don't know. We're both from the Mon Valley Area, so it'll be a nice, good competition.''
But with the one on the football field, Pitt will be the beneficiary.
Notes: Fields says he's a little leaner now than in the past, weighing anywhere between 215-217 with a high point at 220 pounds. "But I feel that 220 is too much for me,'' Fields said.