From gruesome injury back to the gridiron, Danquarian Fields has a triumphant return for Grambling
His interception helped seal the Tigers’ win over defending SWAC champion Alabama A&M
Grambling defensive back Danquarian Fields made sure his return to Eddie G. Robinson Memorial Stadium was a memorable one.
As underdogs against Aqeel Glass and Alabama A&M’s (3-1) vaunted offense, which was ranked No. 1 in the Southwestern Athletic Conference, the Grambling Tigers (2-3) picked off Glass three times, upsetting the Bulldogs 37-28 on Saturday.
One interception stood out among the rest. Late in the third quarter, the 6-foot-3, 210-pound Fields jumped a route, deflected the pass to himself, which he returned 16 yards for his first interception of the season and first since 2019. The Grambling sideline erupted. For those who knew of Fields’ journey, it was the icing on the cake for the Tigers’ homecoming and second win of the season.
“At that moment when I caught the ball, the only [thing] I was thinking about was trying to score it, but afterwards I thought about all the things I had to do to get back to this moment,” Fields, 24, told The Undefeated. “All the anger, pain, mixed emotions I had to overcome within the past few months. To lose five family members and my grandmother this past Thursday, all I can say is it’s just a blessing [to get the interception]. For me at that moment, I take no credit for that, I give all that praise to God for being who he’s always been.”
Just two years ago, Fields wasn’t thinking about football. On Sept. 7, 2019, his only thought after being wheeled into emergency surgery was to leave the hospital with both of his legs.
He doesn’t exactly remember all the particulars of the collision that dislocated his kneecap, shredded three ligaments, chipped his tibia and severed the main artery in his right leg. Fields relies on the video footage to fill in the gaps. On the final play in the first quarter against Louisiana Tech, the defensive back and his teammates chased Tech running back Israel Tucker. During the tackle, Fields was sandwiched between Tucker and his teammates. His right leg buckled and popped.
“I knew it was something extremely serious when you looked at how the other players on the field reacted to his injury,” said Grambling coach Broderick Fobbs. “It was good that we were able to get him there and get him checked in and get him fixed up as much as we possibly could, because there was a lot of considerable damage.”
Fields was flooded with a rush of emotion as he was being strapped onto the stretcher and loaded into the ambulance. The thoughts of missed NFL dreams and a pressing feeling of failure drowned out the sirens.
“At that moment, I felt like I failed,” he said of his ride in the ambulance to Northern Louisiana Medical Center in Ruston. “I know that all I had to do [was] continue to have a great season. I was on a road to get to where I wanted to be able to take care of my family. I felt like I let everybody down in my hometown and my family.”
When he arrived at the hospital, Fields was still in game mode. He hoped his teammates would pull out an upset win over Tech until it was discovered he’d lost sensation in his right leg, which had a nurse running out of the room.
“When I got there, I remember before they put me to sleep saying I made [it] there in time,” Fields said of being airlifted to Shreveport, Louisiana. “Because if I would have waited any longer, I would have my leg amputated. The only thing I was worried about [was] hopefully waking up still having the leg.”
Surgeons were able to repair the artery and reestablished blood flow to prevent amputation, but the first step on a long road to recovery would include 10 surgeries over the next two years.
“It was a relief that I had it,” Fields said of seeing his leg postsurgery. “I was just trying to make sure I got strong enough to be able to walk. I wasn’t thinking about football, because at that moment all I had to do was graduate and walk across the stage.”
The next surgery was ACL/MCL reconstruction, artery bypass — where a vein was taken from his groin and put into his leg to increase blood flow — lateral collateral ligament reconstruction, meniscus repair and microscopic procedures to drain fluid and remove built-up scar tissue during his recovery.
His physical therapy sessions occurred daily and lasted for three to four hours until his leg was stronger. The first time he was able to stand unassisted was four months later, and he took his first step without crutches close to the five-month mark.
Fields said there were days when he struggled to find the motivation to push himself and continue with his physical therapy. He said the injury brought him closer with his family who, along with Jeremy Johnson at Johnson Physical Therapy and Grambling’s director of sports medicine Vernita Young, kept him motivated.
“The days that you don’t feel like doing it are the days that you need to do it, because those days are going to determine who you are,” Fields said of his rehab struggle. “So basically, the days that I don’t feel like doing it I push myself even harder to make sure I’m getting the best out of it.
“I never give up on myself until I actually know for a fact. Once I was in rehab, I knew eventually I could get back on the field.”
Fields missed the remainder of 2019 and missed the 2021 spring season, but despite his body not being physically able to play, he found an alternative way to stay connected to the game by watching film.
“I noticed that film made me much, much smarter just [by] analyzing and being able to pick out some things and tell it to younger players,” Fields said. “Just being around it kept my head level, made me want to grind even more in the weight room or physical therapy.”
In eight seasons as Grambling’s head coach, Fobbs evaluates a player’s growth and strength by what he accomplishes off the gridiron. Fields is a father after welcoming a daughter earlier this year and is preparing to marry his girlfriend, Toriana Alfred, a college graduate with a management degree. He is currently pursuing his master’s degree in business administration. Regardless of what Fields does or doesn’t accomplish on the field this season, Fobbs said, the sixth-year graduate student is the most resilient player he’s ever coached.
“When you look at the fact he had a gruesome knee injury while being in the middle of the pandemic. That could be very tough and very tragic not only getting the injury, but he also lost relatives during a pandemic,” Fobbs said. “So I think all in all these last couple of years has revealed more of Dan Fields’ strength than anything else. Dan is a success. He’s extremely successful. [I’m] very pleased with [him] and everything that he’s accomplished. We just want to be there to help him and assist him in all his adventures and what he wants to do with football.”
Nearly 700 days after being carted off the field, Fields was cleared to play football again on Aug. 6, a few days before the start of team camp.
Fields says he trusts his knee fully, but jokes the weather is his biggest obstacle. He made his first game appearance this season against Southern Mississippi. With that memory still fresh in his mind, Fobbs is still cautious with Fields.
“From time to time, we take for granted the fact that the game, life and anything that we do is so precious, that it can be taken from you at any time,” Fobbs said. “Every time I see him line up for practice, I’m always saying a little prayer to myself, ‘Lord, please protect and take care of him,’ because it’s just such a violent game. But Fields is fearless.”
In two games this season, Fields has three tackles and that interception. He’s proud of his progress and enjoys being among the senior leadership for a young team that has a handful of seniors. He’s spent time at linebacker, a position change from defensive back, but he’s grateful to be on the field and feel needed by the team. Fields has a newfound appreciation for football and keeps the lessons he’s learned throughout his journey at the forefront of his mind.
“[This journey] has definitely made me realize that even at practice, or anywhere dealing with football, you have to give it your all, give it 110% [because] you never know when it can get [taken] away from you. I’m just grateful to have a second chance at it.”