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Son of former Panther takes aim at state sprint title

CORNELIUS Former Carolina Panthers linebacker Mark Fields wanted to see just how fast his son was last month.

Mark Fields II was enjoying a successful track season in North Carolina as a sophomore at Hough High while his dad was living in Arizona and recovering from a bone marrow transplant.

The elder Fields says he ran a 4.43 40-yard dash coming out of college in 1995. Diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma in 2003, he received a bone marrow transplant a year ago. Less than a year removed from the procedure, he set up a 40-yard dash at a local field in Arizona where his son was visiting him during spring break.

“He could never beat me in the 40 even at my age at 40 years old, I can still get out there and run a 4.5 right now, even after a bone marrow transplant,” Fields said. “We lined up that 40 yard dash and I’ll tell you what… I gave him a run for his money, but I have to say he beat me.”

Fields II is beating a lot of people in footraces these days, and Saturday he’ll race in the 100-meter dash in the 4A Championships in Greensboro.

This is the 16-year-old’s first year running track, getting involved in the sport after his football coach Bobby Collins, who’s also the head track and field coach at Hough, wanted to get his star defensive back to increase his speed.

At the I-Meck 7 Conference Championship in April, Fields II was the only sprinter to run a sub-11 seconds in the 100-meter dash finals. And last week in Asheville at the 4A West Regional he posted his fastest time ever - 10.82 - en route to winning the regional.

Track isn’t his first love, nor is it something he plans to pursue after high school. Instead, Fields II looks to succeed on the football field like his father, even though by both the Fields’ admissions the father never pushed the son toward football.

“He’s always been there to support,” Fields II said. “Watching him it was just something I always wanted to do since I was younger. Just be better than him and that’s really what drives me. Being better than him is what really pushes me.”

Fields, the No. 13 overall pick in the 1995 draft, played seven seasons for New Orleans and St. Louis before coming to Carolina in 2002. He played two seasons for the Panthers before Hodgkin’s lymphoma caused him to retire for good at the end of the 2004 season and move to Arizona for treatment.

Since then, “Junior” has gone from Pop Warner running back to a defensive back who’s already getting looks by top SEC schools Georgia, South Carolina and Alabama. He tallied two interceptions his freshman year and didn’t even play his sophomore season due to a back injury.

Fields II, a 5-foot-10, 185-pounder, didn’t lift weights until high school, and now he takes weight training classes each day during third period with Collins. Fields II said he’s maxed out at 310 pounds on bench press and can squat 450 pounds.

“He’s a gifted athlete and it comes to him really easily,” Collins said. “Sixteen years old, not knowing the full potential of his body. That’s the coach’s job to push his body to the limit every day. He’s benching 310 pounds and to be in the 10th grade, that’s pretty good.”

His training in the weight room and on the track comes to a head this weekend. He’ll be the underdog, though, going up against four athletes with better times than his fastest time—including Ragsdale’s Xavier Jones (10.68).

Despite that, his coach still thinks he can come away with the championship.

“I think he can just for the mere fact that I don’t think any guys running the 100 are as strong as he is or they don’t train as hard,” Collins said. “If he takes his mind to another place, I think he can win it.”

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