CHARLOTTE – Jatoine Fields said he wanted to be a football player for as long as he can remember.
In the fall of 2015, Myers Park was becoming one of the state’s premier teams, but they had one big deficiency.
“We couldn’t run the ball at all that year,” Myers Park coach Scott Chadwick said. “We brought Jatoine up from the JV team and he comes up and does a really nice job. He had a great offseason and comes in preseason as our clear No. 1 guy.”
But it wasn’t to be.
The Mustangs were scrimmaging West Forsyth on Rocky River’s turf field.
Fields took a handoff, tried to cut to his right, but as he did a defender arrived at the same time and collided into his right knee.
Fields said he knew it was bad right away.
“I heard two big pops,” he said. “When I tried to move my leg again I heard another two pops and I couldn’t walk. I wasn’t really hurt because I was injured, I was more hurt because I couldn’t play football anymore. I knew it was going to be a big challenge.”
The injury required a total reconstruction, as he tore his MCL, ACL and pretty much everything else in his knee.
Worse, the prognosis was devastating.
Doctors said he had about a 90 percent chance of not playing football again.
“I couldn’t have that,” he said. “I started crying. This was my dream and one injury took it all away. And it wasn’t even in a real game.”
Twelve days after the gruesome injury, Fields had surgery to repair the knee but something wasn’t right.
There were some complications and then the knee got infected, so he had a second surgery. Since so much scar tissue had built up over time and during the procedures, Fields went into a third surgery to remove that.
One awkward move and an ill-timed hit had cost him his dream.
“My lowest point was that I couldn’t move and I couldn’t do anything,” he said. “Plus, people said that I couldn’t come back and there was no way I was going to be able to return. Even when the doctor said I wouldn’t have a good chance of coming back, I knew my motor was too high for that.”
Fields said he spent “a year and some change” rehabbing his knee. One day, nearly two years after the injury an OrthoCarolina rehab specialist asked him to run.
“It had been so long, and I told him I didn’t know,” Fields said. “But I did it and it felt OK.”
Fields missed two high school football seasons rehabbing his knee. Meanwhile, Myers Park was turning from up-and-comer to powerhouse. The Mustangs went 11-2 in 2016 and 12-2 in 2017 while he was out.
Fields said the whole time he was determined to get back and be an asset to his team.
“He got cleared last winter and went through the offseason program with us,” Chadwick said. “I first saw it in spring practice. There was a little bit of that guy at times, but going into the season, I had no idea he was going to be what he was.”
Myers Park opened the season against Olympic on turf – the same surface Fields got hurt on.
“The hardest part is being worried about slipping or getting hit wrong,” Fields said. “It took a couple of hits before I could trust it again, but then it was good.”
Fields never looked back.
“It wasn’t just that he came back and played, it was that he came back and was a very, very good player,” Chadwick said.
Fields was finally the No. 1 back he was so close to being as a sophomore before injuries robbed him of two seasons. He led the team in most rushing categories, including carries (115), yards (822) and rushing touchdowns (nine), while averaging more than seven yards per carry.
“This was a wonderful year,” he said. “I wanted a big year ever since I was a freshman. To get to do that and be out there with them was great. It’s all that I wanted.”
Fields helped the Mustangs set a program record with 13 wins. College coaches noticed Fields, who is listed at 5-foot-7, 170 pounds.
After weighing his options, he is playing next season at Shaw University.
“It’s so special to me because I overcame a lot,” he said. “To play in college was always a dream of mine and I’m blessed I’m able to go to college as a student and as a football player. It’s a dream come true.”
Fields credits his mom, coaching staff, rehab professionals and his teammates for sticking by his side and helping him.
Chadwick thinks most of the credit goes to Fields.
“It couldn’t have happened to a nicer kid,” Chadwick said. “Despite everything he’s been through, he never has a bad day. He shows up and works incredibly hard, and he never shows up without a smile on his face. He’s the kind of kid you root for and you want him to do good because of the kind of kid that he is.”