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Wildcats' Fields turns spring double play

EVANSTON, Ill. -- Arby Fields looked out of place as he ran up the steps leading to Northwestern's football offices, decked out in a ballcap and stirrups, and carrying a glove in his left hand.

"Are they going to let you in there wearing that?" a team official jokingly asked Fields.

Fields turned back, smiled, shrugged, and then went inside.

The snapshot encapsulated Fields' very full sporting life this spring at Northwestern.

On this particular day, he participated in a morning practice with the football team, taking reps as the Wildcats' first-team running back. While his teammates showered, ate and left the athletic complex, Fields changed into his baseball uniform and prepared for an afternoon practice.

The Northwestern sophomore is going through spring football drills, hoping to become the team's starting running back spot this fall. He also has started all 34 of Northwestern's baseball games as a switch-hitting centerfielder and leadoff man, batting .295 with a team-leading 11 doubles and five stolen bases.

"This is what I enjoy doing," Fields said. "I figure if it was easy, everyone would be doing it. I'm just having a blast."

Things really got crazy before Northwestern's first football practice of the spring, on March 29. Fields and the Wildcats baseball had just completed an eight-day trip to Florida and traveled back to Evanston late on March 28 after a game against Stetson.

"I got to bed at about 2 in the morning," Fields recalled. "Then I had to get up at 5:45 for spring ball, getting off a plane. So it was tough, but this is what I wanted to do."

Northwestern's football coaches have supported both Fields and defensive end Quentin Williams, an outfielder for the baseball squad, as they play both sports this spring. Fields often gets text-messages from head coach Pat Fitzgerald, a big Chicago White Sox fan, when he's traveling for baseball games.

So far, Fields' full schedule hasn't slowed him down on the football field. Though his baseball duties have prevented him from participating in weekend scrimmages, he has made progress in practice after leading NU with 302 rushing yards and five touchdowns as a true freshman in 2009. Fields won't play in Saturday's spring game, as he'll be at Purdue with the baseball team.

"That's a tough deal for anybody to take that workload on," said offensive coordinator Mick McCall, acknowledging Fields as the running back trotted by in his baseball uniform. "Not just physically, but mentally and emotionally, more than anything. You've got to know your priorities, so, 'Maybe my social life isn't what it is.' He's trying to do a good job and we're trying to help him with that."

Fitzgerald challenged Fields last season when the running back cramped up in a game, saying Fields' failure to properly hydrate was "completely and totally unacceptable." A full season on the field and a full winter in college has paid off, and McCall singled out Fields for his work during the team's winter conditioning program.

"These winter workouts were the hardest workouts I've done anywhere," Fields said. "I got stronger, faster. With other running backs out with surgery and injuries, the coaches had a chance to see how high my work ethic is."

Fields also watched more film than he ever had before, getting a greater understanding of his responsibilities, not only as a ball-carrier but as a blocker. The intense winter prepared him for a wild spring.

"I'm proud of him," Fitzgerald said. "He's doing a tremendous job. He's got to keep what's important in his life important. He's got to focus academically in the classroom. When he's at football, it's about football. And when he's on the diamond, it's about baseball. That's really difficult. The schedule, the routine, that's awesome.

"I don't think everybody can do it, and it's pretty special that he is."