Staff Photo by Patrick Smith Dalton High School defensive end Jalen Fields is a 2009 Times Free Press Dynamite Dozen selection. Photo taken July 19, 2009.
DALTON, Ga. — Many high school athletes in Jalen Fields’ situation would be in cruise mode right now.
The Dalton High School star defensive end has a football scholarship waiting for him at the University of Georgia. Why not take some time and enjoy his final summer of freedom before he has to start working in Athens?
The answer is simple. Fields has heard critics pick apart his game, from scouting experts to Dalton coaches to his own father.
He doesn’t play hard all the time. He struggles against the run. He needs to develop more pass-rushing moves.
So the 6-foot-5, 250-pounder is spending his summer working out with teammates at 6 a.m. and studying a lot of tape. With the hectic recruiting process behind him, Fields is determined to both prove his doubters wrong and his future Georgia coaches right.
“Having made my (college) choice, I can study my film more and watch other players’ film,” Fields said. “I want to improve my run defense and getting off blocks. My dad is always telling me, ‘You’re looking pretty good, but the rap on you is that you’re not a good run stopper. You need to work on your hands more and be more consistent.’
“We were at the Bethel Farm and (Dalton) Coach (Adam) Winegarden was asking us what our goals are, and I told the whole team that I wanted to work on my hands and that there should be no rushing touchdowns scored on my side.”
Winegarden sees what a dominant force Fields can be, but he makes it clear he wants to see it more often. He stays on Fields because he knows what can happen when the player puts it all together.
“He’s just got to be more consistent with his overall play — play with the right intensity every snap and play the right technique,” Winegarden said. “Consistency is his key, and when he becomes a more consistent player, he’ll be able to play more to his ability level and be more of a factor in a football game.
“Last year was his first year at end, so it was a learning process. He got better as the year went along and Jalen has grown up a lot since last season ended, and I look forward to seeing how much he can improve this fall.”
Fields intends to make his final season a memorable one.
“I’m looking at breaking the Dalton sack record this year,” he said, sweat still covering his face following an early workout. “I want to play lights out and maybe get the state record for sacks, if possible.”
Lindsey Young is a sports writer at the Chattanooga Times Free Press who started work at the Chattanooga News-Free Press 24 years ago. He covers the Northwest Georgia prep beat and NASCAR. Lindsey’s hometown is Ringgold, Ga., and he graduated from Lakeview-Fort Oglethorpe High School. He received an associate’s degree from Dalton Junior College (now Dalton State) and a bachelor’s degree in communications from UTC. He has won several writing awards, including two Tennessee Sports ...