Fields' second chance at SFA could be last

Devonte Fields is running out of second chances. He needs to recognize that as he leaves for Stephen F. Austin.

A story that began with incredible promise ended Wednesday with a Twitter post and a quiet exit. Fields, the Big 12's preseason Defensive Player of the Year, is leaving TCU and the trouble he created there behind to start over at the FCS level.

He'll be able to play right away for the Lumberjacks. He'll move to Nacogdoches, Texas, a small East Texas town 200 miles from home, and perhaps that'll help him stay out of trouble. But Fields is bringing with him a reputation badly in need of repair.

Gary Patterson deserves credit for trying to make this work. Fields put the first strike on his record just two weeks after signing with TCU in 2012 after being arrested for marijuana possession. When he violated team rules after his freshman season, Patterson handed down a two-game suspension.

The Horned Frogs stood by Fields in January, too, when he was attacked, robbed and threatened at gunpoint at his home. When he got back on the field this spring for the first time since a foot injury ended his sophomore season early, TCU coaches didn't take it easy on him. They downplayed the hype and even listed him as a backup on the post-spring depth chart in the hopes of further motivating him.

And until a few weeks ago, it seemed like this story was positioned to end happily. The local kid makes good, learns from his mistakes and becomes a star again. Big 12 reporters weren't dumb to gives Fields the league's top preseason defensive honor. As his 10-sack rookie year proved, he's a special talent.

But Fields allegedly did something no amount of talent can overcome. He can escape to SFA, but he can't run away from the misdemeanor assault charges he was arrested for on July 24.

Fields denies he assaulted ex-girlfriend Haley Brown, and she has recanted her claim that a handgun was involved. The legal process over whether Fields punched her in the face still isn't over. Still, TCU was right to sever ties by calling Fields "separated" from the program.

He'd been given more than enough chances and warnings. He broke the trust he'd attempted to rebuild this spring.

What Patterson is left with now is a defense that still could be one of the Big 12's best. There are quality players at every level of the unit, led by defensive tackle Chucky Hunter, safety Sam Carter and cornerback Kevin White. Terrell Lathan, TCU's returning sacks leader with five in 2013, can take over Fields' spot.

The Frogs fielded the No. 2 total defense and No. 1 run defense in the league last season without Fields. But he did bring star power and playmaking ability to this group that's impossible to match.

Now Fields will seek a new beginning with the Lumberjacks. He'll have to convince first-year coach Clint Conque he's committed and focused on keeping his slate clean. If Fields does gets his act together, he'll face a familiar foe in his first career game at SFA: Kansas State.

That's the first of 12 opportunities for the 6-foot-6, 250-pound lineman to prove he's still one of the nation's most dominant pass rushers. He is eligible to enter the NFL draft after the season, but whether the league will want him depends on how Fields utilizes these next 10 months.

The abrupt end of his TCU career is a sad ordeal for all involved. But now is the time for Fields to take responsibility. He's getting a do-over, and you hope he's learned some lessons.

Fields has at least learned one thing over and over again: He's one slip-up away from squandering it all. If his stint in Nacogdoches ends the way his TCU career did Wednesday, he'll have no one to blame but himself. His next chance just might be his last.