Former Northern Vance High School football player Carlos Fields currently finds himself in a different but familiar situation with his career.
Although his playing days are behind him, Fields has settled in comfortably as an assistant coach with Alabama A&M’s football team, helping lead the program to a solid 7-3 record in his first season.
One factor that helped Fields quickly acclimate to his new environment as a coach was being surrounded by many of the same people that mentored him when he played for Winston-Salem State University.
“It feels like home,” Fields said. “Four of the coaches on staff right now were my coaches at Winston-Salem State. I pretty much knew everybody when I got here, so it all came down to me blending in and learning things from a different standpoint.”
Alabama A&M’s head coach, Connell Maynor, and its defensive tackles coach, Kienus Boulware, were among those that guided Fields and the rest of the Winston-Salem State roster to several successful years during the early 2010s.
With the mentorship of Maynor, Boulware and the rest of the coaching staff, Fields made the most of his four years at Winston-Salem State and emerged as one of the program’s most pivotal players on defense as a starting middle linebacker.
The leadership and versatility Fields showed on the field was crucial in propelling Winston-Salem State to the NCAA Division II national championship game in 2012, where they ultimately ended up losing 35-7 to Valdosta State.
Even though they came up short of a national title, Winston-Salem State had claimed two CIAA championships and two Black College National Championships by the time Fields graduated. Fields’ efforts on the field also earned him CIAA Player of the Year and All-America honors twice.
Fields spent the next couple of years bouncing around several different NFL organizations as a practice squad member before finally seeing the field for the Washington Football Team in 2015. In five appearances, Fields recorded four tackles, three of them unassisted.
After competing in just one more game with the San Diego Chargers in 2016, Fields elected to retire as a player and move to Thomasville to become a math teacher while also staying close to football as a coach.
While focusing on his family and job, Fields stayed in touch with his old defensive coordinator, Boulware, who one day informed him of a job opening at Alabama A&M as a linebackers coach.
Boulware “is like a second father to me,” Fields said. “We developed a bond like no other and I talked to him every day. He got a job at [Alabama A&M] a few months before me and he wanted me to come down there with him.”
Fields was initially unsure about moving from North Carolina to Normal, Alabama, but he did not want to pass up the opportunity of becoming a college coach and ended up joining Alabama A&M’s staff in August.
Fields described his first year at Alabama A&M as a learning experience that proved to be rewarding. He enjoyed re-establishing working relationships with his old coaches and bonding with the players, who he praised for showcasing resilience and determination against many tough opponents in the Southwestern Athletic Conference.
Those challenging tests included a meeting with a Jackson State program coached by NFL Hall of Famer Deion Sanders on Oct. 9, a game Alabama A&M lost 61-15.
“It was pretty nice getting to coach against [Deion],” Fields said. “He’s doing a lot of great things for HBCUs, but he’s certainly a character. [Alabama A&M] actually beat Jackson State last year then they came back and beat us this year. It was a great experience and I’m looking forward to playing him again next year.”
Alabama A&M suffered another loss to Florida A&M the following week 35-31 after leading most of the game. They ended up missing the NCAA FCS playoffs, but still ended the season on a strong note with a four-game win streak.
Fields believes that Alabama A&M has the potential to improve on its 7-3 record, but said that it is up to him as a coach to ensure that his linebackers are maximizing their capability by locking down the middle of the field.
A part of accomplishing that mission for Fields involves relying on his NFL experience. He said being a journeyman practice squad member provided plenty of benefits when it came to thoroughly understanding defenses and how to make them function properly.
“When I went to the NFL, my knowledge on the game went from a three-ring binder to a six-ring binder,” Fields said. “As a linebacker, you have to know every position around you, and being able to learn playbooks with eight different NFL organizations definitely helped me a lot as a player and a coach.”
Fields’ college days have also been helpful during his transition into being a coach for a major NCAA college football program.
The family-like atmosphere Maynor created at Winston-Salem State also prevails at Alabama A&M, and involves everyone holding each other accountable and teaching players the qualities that will make them thrive after their playing career concludes.
Fields considers himself fortunate to be a part of Maynor’s culture again after it helped him find his ideal path in life. He wants to repay Maynor, Boulware and the rest of his long-time coaches by building a sustainable football program at Alabama A&M.
“I want to get [Alabama A&M] back to the SWAC championship,” Fields said. “Deion has set the standard, so I’d love to get there and reach the Celebration Bowl where the SWAC champion faces the MEAC champion. Hopefully we can go to the playoffs and reach the championship game like I did at Winston-Salem State.”
Fields does not think it will take long for Alabama A&M to reach the FCS playoffs, and is ready to start recruiting plenty of players and bringing them into an environment that will ensure long-term success both on and off the field.
Contact Brandon White at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 252-436-2840