After amassing 213 receiving yards off of 29 catches (7.3 yards per catch, 42.6 per game) in the first five games of the season, there’s no question that true freshman wide receiver Shay Fields is making an immediate impact in the Colorado football program. While his success with the Buffaloes is pretty smooth-sailing so far, his road to CU was far from easy.
In a nutshell, Fields’ recruitment process involved his commitment and de-commitment from two different schools before he finally chose Colorado. The reason, he said, was that he strove to find coaches with whom he could have a personal connection.
“For me, I wanted to have another father figure, someone I can reach out to and kind of depend on for the emotional and physical aspects of anything I need on and off the field,” Fields said.
It all started at St. John Bosco High School in Bellflower, California, where head coach John Negro mentored Fields. In his first three years as head coach of the Braves, Negro and his team had been featured in the highest rankings for all of high school football nationwide.
Fields believed Coach Negro’s experience and coaching expertise helped him enhance his talent to the level that Buffs fans see on the field every Saturday.
“[Coach Negro] had a huge impact on [sharpening my skills], especially after coming from a great receiver like Bryce Treggs,” Fields said. “He wanted to mold me into the kind of player he was, or even better. He basically just said, ‘we’re going to pass you the ball or get the ball in your hands’.”
For reference, wide receiver Bryce Treggs has made quite the impression during his first three years as a California Golden Bear. In his first two seasons at Cal, he appeared in 21 games and started 17 while compiling 98 total receptions for 967 overall reception yards. This season alone, he has already acquired 192 yards off of 12 catches in four games. He had 30 yards off of two receptions against the Buffs the game before last.
Negro’s approach to transforming Fields into a versatile offensive player has proven to be successful, even at the collegiate level. Although Colorado’s sophomore quarterback Sefo Liufau has thrown to wide receiver Nelson Spruce most this season, Fields is next in line. Spruce already has 56 receptions with 697 total yards, but Fields is second behind him with 29 total receptions and 213 total yards.
After having a “pretty tight” relationship with Negro and his staff in high school, Fields said that his college decision was based on the connection he had with coaches. The first coach to fit the bill was Boise State head coach Chris Petersen.
Fields committed to Boise State’s program after having several conversations with Petersen, but that all changed when Petersen left the Broncos to pursue a coaching career with the Washington Huskies, a program that did not offer Fields a scholarship.
“[Coach Petersen and I] had a good connection,” Fields said. “It was just that because he left, especially since I didn’t have the Washington offer, I felt like I had to go somewhere else… I had that mindset of, ‘let’s find a new school,’ especially since I wanted to play in the Pac-12.”
When the coaching change deterred his commitment to Boise State, Fields turned to Ed Orgeron and USC. Orgeron was the interim head coach of the football program at the time, but he was ultimately replaced by former Washington head coach Steve Sarkisian.
Fields said his life-long devotion to the Trojans played a key role in his decision to switch.
“I grew up a USC fan, especially watching Reggie Bush and Matt Leinart and all those other guys,” Fields said. “It was one of my dream schools.”
USC then made its own coaching changes, and Fields felt uneasy once again.
“[Orgeron remaining head coach] was what I was expecting, but after he didn’t get the job, it made me look over to other schools such as Colorado and Utah.”
Sarkisian and his staff did not offer Fields a scholarship, and his options at seeing playing time with the same staff at USC were limited, so he turned his attention toward Utah, California and Colorado. After talking to all three schools and visiting campuses, the Buffs ultimately won him over.
Wide receivers coach Troy Walters explained why recruiting Fields was such a challenge for Colorado.
“Anytime you grew up in L.A. you tend to be USC or UCLA fans, so I always knew that was going to be a battle,” Walters said. “But [safeties] Coach [Charles] Clark did a great job of really establishing a personal relationship with him, and we showed him how he can be successful here at Colorado and really be an impact guy. I think that was appealing to him.”
One of the main reasons he chose Colorado, Fields explained, was his connection to Walters.
“Coach Walters is kind of like another father figure,” Fields said. “He’s like a dad away from home, so it’s like anything I need to talk to him about, I can talk to him about. If I ask him about plays, he goes over them with me. He’s just a great role model for me.”
Coach Walters sees their connection a bit differently, as trust-based, something he believes is directly associated with his experience in the NFL. Walters spent eight years in the league playing for Minnesota, Indianapolis, Arizona and Detroit as a receiver from 2000 to 2007.
“As a player, [Fields] is kind of undersized, but he’s hungry, he’s passionate and he loves the game,” Walters said. “…with my experience playing at the highest level, I think he was drawn to that. I put my cleats on and I show him how to run routes. We developed a lot of trust and he saw that he had an opportunity here to be special, and really make an impact at the university, not only on the field but off the field.”
For now, Fields is just focusing on improving his game.
“I’m just trying to be Shay,” Fields said. “I want to just be myself and make a name for myself.”
Contact CU Independent Staff Writer Alissa Noe at Alissa.email@example.com.