FORT WORTH, Texas -- This time last year, Devonte Fields was shuffling to classes as dictated by a bell and gearing up for his high school graduation from Martin High in nearby Arlington, Texas.
TCU coach Gary Patterson says another graduation might be needed for his biggest defensive star.
Fields made a huge impact in TCU's fall camp after showing up to campus in the summer and started every game for the Frogs, making 18.5 tackles for loss and 10 sacks to take home the Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year award from the media as a true freshman, despite being an unknown when the season kicked off.
His return this spring, though, hasn't pleased his head coach.
"He’s not had as good a spring as we would have liked him to have had," Patterson told ESPN.com in a recent interview. "You just expect him to get better and faster, but if I tell you all the things, then everybody knows about him. The biggest thing is sometimes you don’t think you have to work as hard and come back and do some things, so getting him back on the level of why he was the player that he was."
By season's end, Fields' profile (among fans and opposing offensive lines alike) was enormous compared to the rest of the Frogs' 17 freshmen who played in 2013, the most ever under Patterson at TCU. Fields' struggles aren't uncommon, but they're not welcome, either.
"The thing you’ve got to be worried about with freshmen, is they think they get that year over with and now everything’s easy. Well, it actually becomes harder," Patterson said. "People call it the sophomore jinx, so for us, we’re really pushing through and making them understand. I think a lot of them are going through that, including Devonte Fields."
This season, Fields won't have the luxury of an all-conference defensive end across from him attracting attention, especially early in the season. Stansly Maponga fought through foot and ankle injuries in 2012, but he was the Frogs' only preseason All-Big 12 selection last fall. Fields made just 4.5 of his 18.5 tackles for loss in the final six games of the season, and had just two of his 10 sacks over that period. The difficulty level also ratcheted up for Fields well before spring began.
"The reason was he was talented, but he played so hard. When you come back, you have to make sure you still do that every day. We don’t feel like we got that as much so far this spring as much as we need to," Patterson said.
Fields can change that with some more work in the weight room and on the practice field this summer and once fall camp begins, but the real measuring stick will come very soon when the Frogs open the season in Fields' hometown of Arlington, Texas at Cowboys Stadium against LSU.
"Freshmen sometimes they play -- scared’s not the right word -- but with great anticipation of the unknown. For us, how do you get it through now to get back and still want to win a conference championship and have the level of play that you have to do to beat the kind of opponents you have to beat in this league?" Patterson said. "We have to keep working forward and getting better."