- Austin Ward, ESPN Staff Writer
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COLUMBUS, Ohio -- The role of unlikely hero certainly has its perks.
There’s the lasting memory of a play that won’t be forgotten, along with the outpouring of admiration from a fan base that makes sure to show its appreciation and the simple fact that few people will ever know the rush of grabbing a game-winning touchdown.
But there is one part of the moniker that ensures it’s a bit of a backhanded compliment, since somebody like Ohio State receiver Chris Fields can’t come out of nowhere to save the day and a perfect record against Purdue unless he hasn’t been around to do much before then.
“It’s just a matter of opportunity,” Fields said. “You get an opportunity on the field to make a play, you make a play.
“A lot of people sleep on people sometimes, and it’s OK. You know, they’re going to wake up some day.”
The Buckeyes might still be suffering through nightmares without the late heroics of Fields a year ago against the Boilermakers, with an unbeaten season about to slip away if not for his ability to slide a pair hands just under a throw from Kenny Guiton for a score that set up a game-tying 2-point conversion in the final seconds.
Fields wound up with 3 catches in the overtime win, and his contributions were perhaps even more unexpected than Guiton’s off the bench since he came into the game without a reception and only made one more for the rest of the season. But after largely fading into the shadows after his bright, shining moment a year ago, the fifth-year senior has now put himself right back in the spotlight with a pair of touchdown catches in Saturday’s opening win over Buffalo.
And given the strong debut and his current place in the starting lineup at H-back, Fields is also in position to shed the element of surprise and instead just become a player No. 2 Ohio State can count on in big moments.
“One of the most improved players on the team,” coach Urban Meyer said. “He’s just playing his tail of and doing a lot of things for us, and he’s doing it all right, too.
“ ... I admire Chris Fields -- he wasn’t in the top 50 [on the roster] for playing a game last year, and he’s really the same talent.”
Fields has rarely had many chances to show it since signing with the Buckeyes, heading into his last season with the program with just 15 total receptions to his credit. Regardless of how important his score might have been against Purdue, that was the only touchdown of his career coming into the season.
But even before Fields found the end zone twice over the weekend, Meyer raved about the versatility the veteran provides both as a target in the passing game and potentially as a rusher at the hybrid H-back position all the way back in spring practice. And despite the addition of a handful of talented newcomers capable of filling that role, Fields hasn’t given the Buckeyes any reason to take his expanded role away so far.
“My mindset was, since I’m up there, I want to stay up there,” Fields said. “I mean, I feel like that [Purdue] play really wasn’t the spark. I feel like I’ve always had that confidence in myself, I never lost that confidence in myself throughout the years I’ve been playing this game. It’s just a matter of having the chance to be out there.
“I knew my time would be coming. It was just a matter of time.”
Fields showed up just before it all ran out on the Buckeyes in the bid for perfection a year ago.
Now he’s getting a chance to deliver earlier in the game and potentially much more often, which might require a different label as an unlikely hero transitions to something more permanent.
Like, for instance, “starter.”
“I had to change how I live my life a little bit and how I’ve focused in on a lot of things,” Fields said. “But when [Meyer] said I’d be able to be a starter this year, I’m taking full advantage of it.
“I’m not running, I’m not going anywhere else.”
17hBrian Bennett and Austin Ward