In spite of Winston-Salem State University’s unprecedented football success over the past two seasons (27-2), linebacker Carlos Fields refuses to take anything for granted. He’s acutely aware that there are no guarantees for the Rams, who advanced to play for last year’s Division II national championship.
The memories of a 35-7 defeat to Valdosta State (Ga.) haven’t faded. In fact, it provides more incentive for Winston-Salem State in its quest to return to the national title game in December.
“The way we performed last season was all about heart,” said Fields, who was voted first-team All-America by D2Football.com a year ago. “It’s very difficult to win a lot of games and find ways to stay highly focused for every game of the season. We fell one game short, but we’ll use that to add fuel to the fire. Our goal is to earn another trip to Alabama (to play for the national championship).”
Fields, the 2012 CIAA Defensive Player of the Year, is the cornerstone of a defense that ranked among the national leaders last season. The Rams were ninth in stopping the run (95.67 yards per game) and 12th in points allowed (17.4 points per game) and total defense (293.6 yards per game). Not only did Fields lead the team with 117 tackles, but his speed and lateral quickness enable him to match-up favorably as a pass defender against slot receivers.
“Carlos is the quarterback of our defense,” said Coach Connell Maynor. “All the players look up to him on the field and off. What makes him so special is his speed and knowledge of the game. He reads his keys so well that he can be slow in his initial reaction and still make the stop before the play fully develops. Plus, he’s versatile enough that we can make him a key part of our pass coverage.”
Fields, a 6-feet-2, 220-pound senior from Henderson, admitted that one of the biggest challenges that his team faces is being able to tune out all the well-wishers and sky-high expectations. The Rams have been so dominant over the past two seasons that it’s easy for fans to expect repeat performances.
“Coach Maynor does a real good job of helping us to keep things in the proper perspective,” said Fields, who is a 2013 pre-season All-America pick. “He constantly preaches to us that we cannot let people convince us about how good we are. Our job is to keep moving forward in our goals to win the CIAA, make the playoffs and play for a national championship. Everything starts with practice and we go from there. We set our sights on going 1-0 each week. That’s what we keep our focus on.”
The Rams defense could be hard pressed to duplicate last season’s performance level. With the departure of some key seniors, which include All-America safety Malcolm Rowe, linemen Justin Wilkerson and Barry Tripp, along with defensive back Darryl Pulliam, Winston-Salem State will look to several transfers to help fill the void. Fields is confident that the Rams can continue their dominance.
“Our defense has enough for us to keep doing what we’ve been doing,” he said. “What it comes down to is everybody being on the same page and everybody being disciplined at all times. If we can do that, then hopefully, we can get it done and give ourselves another shot at winning a national championship.”