This time around, college football's national signing day was no different from any other day for former Dalton High defensive menace Jalen Fields.
A year after signing with the University of Georgia, Fields awoke last Wednesday morning to reveille at 5:30, and he was in accountability formation by 5:45 at Davenport Field on the Georgia Military College campus in Milledgeville. The brutal cold that the South has endured this winter has not been lost on those at GMC who must undergo physical training before tasting that first bite of breakfast.
"You feel that chill standing out there," Fields said. "You feel that wind cutting you about a thousand times. It's very tough, because you want to be laying in bed."
Fields is seven months into his junior-college detour after failing to qualify academically out of Dalton, but he could be within a year of arriving in Athens. GMC coach Bert Williams said his 6-foot-5, 260-pound defensive end is on track to leave GMC in December and join the Bulldogs next January.
As a GMC freshman, Fields tallied 11 tackles and four tackles for loss, including two sacks.
"Jalen had a great year as far as learning our system, and he really came on strong the second half of the year and played very well," Williams said. "He's done a very good job in the classroom and is doing everything we would want him to do at this point. Obviously we're in the offseason now, and he's doing a good job of working out and being a leader in the weight room."
Georgia coach Mark Richt and defensive coordinator Todd Grantham have kept in touch with Williams and have visited GMC to watch film of Fields and Lonnie Outlaw, a 6-5 receiver out of Rochelle, Ga., who also signed with the Bulldogs last year. Outlaw, who had 41 receptions for 829 yards and six touchdowns for Wilcox County in 2009, will need to stay the two full years in Milledgeville, according to Williams.
Fields was rated by Rivals.com as the No. 14 strongside defensive end in the 2010 class after racking up 141 tackles, 12 sacks and four forced fumbles in his final two seasons with the Catamounts. Grantham said last February that Fields was projected as an outside linebacker in his 3-4 scheme, but Williams believes he is better suited now at defensive end after adding 10 pounds.
"I don't think he's a standup guy," Williams said. "We used to run a '50,' and where we would have played him is on the weakside over there where he is able to stay one-on-one all the time. He's big and strong enough to move in and handle a double-team if he needs to, but he has a lot of burst off the ball and will do well in that scheme once he gets there."
Said Fields: "I see myself as both. I've gotten a lot faster and I've gotten a lot stronger, and I'll play wherever the coaches want me to play. I just want to get on the field."
Watching a player adjust to the military rigors and to the reality of not being immediately eligible to play in the SEC is something Williams experiences annually, but he said Fields has handled those aspects well. The first few days and weeks on the football field can be different at GMC, he added, because players rarely redshirt.
"We sign guys who play as freshmen and know that they have to compete against sophomores," Williams said. "It's a little bit different intensity, because we have to get them ready to play and ready to play quick."
Fields considers his time at GMC as a "great experience" so far, and he appreciates the hands-on environment he is experiencing in the classroom. He feels blessed to have a second chance and recognizes that every bitterly cold morning is another day closer to playing for Georgia.
"It's all I can think of," Fields said. "I honestly think about it every night. I'm going to work hard every day and get better, and I can't wait to see what the future has in store for me."