It was well past midnight when Patrick Fields made it back to the team hotel. Those early morning hours of Dec. 30, after Oklahoma’s season-ending win against Oregon in the Alamo Bowl, should have been time for celebration. Fields stayed up as long as he could, soaking up his last night as a Sooner with his teammates. But he couldn’t stay for long.
At 8 a.m. the next morning, Fields was on the road, speeding west on Interstate 10 with his family and belongings in tow. His first classes in Stanford’s Management Science and Engineering (MS&E) program were starting in just four days.
The 26-hour drive from San Antonio to Palo Alto was the final leg of Fields’ journey to Stanford. But the itinerary had been set a long time ago. Starting in high school, Fields dreamed bigger than he thought a kid from Tulsa, Okla. could. He wanted to break barriers for his family. He wanted to play in the NFL. And he wanted to give back to Tulsa along the way.
“I feel like I’ve been moving 1,000 miles an hour since I don’t even know how long,” Fields said. “There’s a lot of stuff in my life that doesn’t really get highlighted because football is the biggest attention grabber.”
There’s plenty of reason to be excited about Fields’ football.
As a veteran safety with three Big 12 Championships and two College Football Playoff semifinals under his belt, he brings the kind of experience a floundering Stanford program desperately needs. When he suits up for the Cardinal next fall, Fields will fulfill one of his biggest childhood dreams.
But the late nights and early mornings Fields spent getting to Stanford brought him a lot more, too. He arrives on the Farm with a master’s degree in accounting, an offer from McKinsey and plans to organize education and mentorship programs for Tulsa’s schools. As his final season of college football looms, Fields still has many more dreams ahead of him.
Those dreams started when Fields was young. Growing up in Tulsa, the common fantasy of playing college football for Oklahoma played in his head. He grew up watching the Sooners and re-enacted his favorite plays in his living room, somersaulting into an imaginary endzone.
Going to Stanford wasn’t on the radar at first. Fields excelled in class and kept a high GPA, but he saw few Black students around him apply to top colleges. His outlook changed when his older brother was admitted to Cornell.
“Once I saw him do that, [it] kind of broke the barriers for not only himself but our family and, you know, kids that look like us at our school,” Fields said. “It opened me up to that world.”
It helped that Fields always seemed to have a preternatural focus. Once he set goals, he saw them through. He didn’t have qualms about taking classes through his summers or missing prom to graduate early from high school in December. When he was younger, he sought out odd jobs and errands when the family budget was tight.
“He’s always been very conscious of responsibility,” said Serina, Fields’ mother. “As a young child, he wanted to get certain things and, with me being a single mom, I wasn’t always able to do it. He would mow lawns or he would do little jobs, like help out at the games.”
Fields settled on Stanford as his top choice to play in college, and he had the numbers in class and on the field to catch head coach David Shaw’s interest. But he’d moved too quickly through his studies for even Stanford. The Cardinal program wasn’t accepting graduates from high school who wanted to enroll in college early — a policy that Stanford only recently changed in 2021 — making Fields’ recruitment a non-starter. Oklahoma, meanwhile, was the first school to offer him. That was too hard to turn down.
“Obviously, that’s my home school,” Fields said. “A lot of love there. But I was very passionate about going to Stanford and had everything worked out — I think I would’ve definitely come to Stanford before OU.”
Playing for the Sooners, though, threw Fields head first into championship football. As a freshman in 2018, Fields watched quarterback Kyler Murray win the Heisman and power Oklahoma to a Big 12 Championship and a CFP semifinal. Fields first received extended playing time in that semifinal — a shootout against No. 1 Alabama in the Orange Bowl — after coming off the bench to replace an injured starter. He grew from there, starting at safety on the Sooners’ defense for the next three years.
“I have so much appreciation for everything I got to experience there,” Fields said. “There’s a reason why they’re one of the greatest college football programs of all time.”
Off the gridiron, Fields kept to the breakneck academic schedule he had in high school. He was already set on his next goal.
“I told myself as a freshman, I want to grad transfer to Stanford,” Fields said.
That meant setting himself up to graduate early again. To make things harder, Fields chose to ferry himself through an accelerated bachelor’s and master’s program in accounting. The dual degree normally takes five years to complete. Fields wanted to be done by the first semester of his senior year.
The requirements for Stanford’s MS&E program added yet another burden. Fields needed a Ph.D. economics class to fulfill a math prerequisite, but the class met during morning practice, so he watched the lectures in the evenings. It was usually around 8 p.m. when he made it home, where he’d spend an hour reading to his younger cousin before starting his work. The only thing Fields didn’t keep track of was his sleep.
“I [was] falling asleep maybe at 10 o’clock,” Fields said, before pausing to reconsider. “Nah, I never fell asleep at ten. I probably slept three to five hours during the season.”
Somehow, Fields’ schedule paid off. He completed his accounting degree in December of his senior year and was accepted into Stanford’s MS&E program — and, as a graduate school applicant to Stanford, Fields wasn’t recruited by Stanford’s football program during the application. He ended his final season with the Sooners on a high note, too: Fields’ final play in Oklahoma Memorial Stadium was a game-sealing interception against Iowa State, and he earned Defensive MVP honors at the Alamo Bowl for a ten-tackle effort in the season-ending win.
Fields was still sore from those tackles when he set off on the long drive to Stanford’s campus, and he barely had time to get his bearings before classes began. Fields had only been to California once before, for a road game against UCLA. Now, five months after arriving at Stanford, he’s still taking everything in.
“It’s just like, suddenly my life feels fake,” Fields said. “Seeing palm trees… Going to the beach is like the biggest thing in the world.”
Stanford’s football program seems just as excited to have Fields. Head coach David Shaw expects him to compete immediately for playing time, even amongst an experienced defensive back room that counts as one of the strengths of the Cardinal’s roster. He also sees Fields as a valuable leader.
“Our first couple of conversations had everything to do with, ‘Hey, what’s my role? How much do you want me to push? How much do you want me to lead you know, who are the guys I wanted to touch base with?’” Shaw said. “He naturally wants to lead.”
Fields is fitting well into the culture of a Stanford program that, by his observation, is big on player leadership and developing players’ football IQ. Oklahoma, by contrast, felt “old school in a lot of ways,” Fields said. “Stuff was simple. We were gonna push sleds, run fast, lift heavy weights… our practices were very intense, like crazy.”
“He kind of has a different mentality,” said fifth-year wide receiver Michael Wilson. “He’s used to winning … because that’s all he knows at OU.”
Fields will have three college degrees by the time he wraps up his college football career, but playing in the NFL is still his next goal. His perspective on football has changed significantly since childhood, however. In Tulsa, football used to feel like the only option available to him.
“I thought that was the only way you could have a great life,” Fields said of the sport. “Football was a big motivator simply from that standpoint, wanting to change things for myself, my family [and] my future family.”
Now, Fields plays football purely out of passion, he says. And while that’s enough to push him to aim for the pros, he’s just as excited about the paths he’ll take after football. Fields might be the only prospective NFL player next year to declare for the draft with an offer from consulting firm McKinsey in his back pocket — Fields applied while at Oklahoma, and he can accept whenever he hangs up his cleats — and, eventually, he hopes to bring his earnings from both football and business back to his hometown.
“Hopefully I’ll be able to open up some type of mentorship program in Tulsa,” Fields said. “I just want to expose inner city kids to coding, computer science, tech … all these things that people typically don’t get any exposure to because of lack of funding.”
For Fields, it’s a way to give back. He speaks gratefully about the mentorship he received at Oklahoma — he didn’t know what a resume or a cover letter was when he arrived, he recalls, and a staff member in student affairs took him to a sale at JC Penny to buy his first suit.
While at Oklahoma, Fields ran a financial literacy seminar for high school students and established a “Black Wall Street Scholarship” for lower-income students from Tulsa looking to go to OU. He plans to return home again this summer to organize a bigger event on Juneteenth, which will connect high school athletes with Stanford college admissions staff and Black professionals in various industries.
It’s what Fields would have loved to have seen growing up himself.
“I wish I would have seen more representation of successful minority leaders, entrepreneurs, businessmen,” he added. “The only way I thought I could make it was football.”
It took several hectic years, two degrees and countless late nights, but Fields has proven that belief wrong. He’s proud of how far he’s come. With a year of football at his dream school ahead of him and several impassioned paths to choose from whenever his playing career ends, Fields might have finally earned himself a full night’s sleep.
“I’m just fortunate to be in the position I am today,” Fields said. “I can be fearless.”