CORNELIUS, N.C. — Mark Fields never has to look far to find a source of motivation.
So it came as a surprise at the Nike Football SPARQ Combine in February when Fields reached two years into his past as he qualified for The Opening, an all-star camp for the nations best high school football players.
He told me when he was a freshman that his goal was to be invited to The Opening, said ChaChi Sullivan, Hough High defensive backs coach. At the SPARQ combine, I realized he brought his SPARQ rating from his freshman year. He had his mom take a picture of both ratings together. As a freshman, thats a lofty goal.
Its all part of a plan thats taken shape since that freshman season for the Class of 2015 South Carolina cornerback commitment from Hough High, located north of Charlotte.
Fields jokes that his journey began with uncertainty.
I always looked at the rankings. When I was a freshman in high school, I remember having no offers. I was scared I wasnt going to get ranked, he recalled. I always wanted to be big-time. I came out here and worked, did DB drills, made it happen on the field and at camps, and really got my name out.
The four-star prospect with NFL bloodlines has more than 10 major scholarship offers. He committed to the Gamecocks on March 22 over Alabama, Clemson and Georgia.
247Sports considers Fields the No. 7 cornerback prospect in this class. Rivals has him at No. 11 among corners. ESPN ranks him No. 18.
The 5-foot-11 Fields is aware of where he stands in the eyes of recruiting analysts. Its fuel to his competitive fire.
I feel like Im the No. 1 corner in the nation, he said. I just feel like some of those guys are ranked up there because theyre 6-3 or something like that. I am rated high, but I feel a little underrated. It really doesnt mean anything. Im just out here working.
Sullivan called Fields one of the most competitive players he has coached.
He feels like hes got something to prove all the time, Sullivan said. He takes stuff like that and uses it as motivation more so than the typical kid. Mark has a plan. He has a legitimate plan that is different from the typical high school kid.
Fields will get to showcase his skills alongside many of those higher-ranked corners next month at The Opening in Oregon. He punched his ticket to the elite event with a 113.52 rating at the Nike Football SPARQ Combine in February, third-best at the event held at Hough. Thats up from the 79.92 he posted as a freshman, a score that combines results in the 40-yard dash, agility shuttle, vertical jump and kneeling power ball toss.
He will also spend time this summer training in Arizona with his father, former NFL linebacker Mark Fields Sr., who played for the Carolina Panthers, New Orleans Saints and St. Louis Rams.
Fields Sr. was drafted No. 13 by the Saints in 1995. Fields Jr. has set his sights on being drafted No. 12 or higher a goal also set as a ninth-grader.
I always want to outdo my pops, Fields said. Going higher than 13 is a big goal of mine. I tell him all the time. He thinks its great. He always teases me and says, Youre not big time yet. I tell him to watch. Im going to get there.
Fields said he connected with USC defensive backs coach Grady Brown and was intrigued by the opportunity to play cornerback, safety and nickelback in any given game.
Hes looking forward to playing in the SEC for Brown, defensive coordinator Lorenzo Ward and coach Steve Spurrier. His time with the Gamecocks, he said, will help him make his mark in college and get ready for the pros.
Those days of fretting about a first scholarship offer seem far away.
I knew that I was going to be a top prospect, Fields said. I just knew that I was going to put in the work to be there. I just wanted to make sure I was getting recognized. I made sure I did everything I needed to do to get to the point where Im at now.