Two years ago, James Fields made a commitment to return Eastern's football program to the winning status of past decades.
Fields didn't get the job officially until Sept. 1, 1981, and the Ramblers were scheduled to play their first game four days later.
"There wasn't much I could do about that and the only reason I didn't cancel the game was because the kids had been working out on their own," Fields said.
"We had about 20 guys out most of the summer but you can't do much without a coach," said senior running back Herbert Smith. "We exercised, threw the ball around and ran the plays we knew. We were glad to see Mr. Fields."
As expected, Eastern provided a perfect practice game for McKinley, losing, 28-0. The remainder of the season wasn't much fun either, as Eastern was outscored, 204-64, and won only three of 10 games. It was the Ramblers' worst record in nearly a dozen years.
"We were just trying not to get embarrassed," Fields admits, "we knew it would be a tough year. We didn't have that many guys and I asked them to do the best they could."
Last season, the Ramblers showed remarkable strides, finishing 5-4. The team scored 107 points and allowed 106. The only two league losses were to East Division champion H.D. Woodson and Anacostia. But Fields and his players were pleased.
"It was a big difference, a lot of improvement," Smith said. "We felt we could win again."
Eastern opened this season on an auspicious note, losing, 24-0, at Carroll.
"We won the game but Eastern played very well," Carroll Coach Maus Collins said. "They made a few mistakes and we converted in the second half. They have some athletes."
After that loss, Fields spent the next week working on eliminating "silly mistakes." The extra work has begun to pay off. Eastern made very few errors and had consecutive shutouts over Coolidge and Cardozo and a 12-8 win over Dunbar.
Suddenly Rambler football followers are whispering about that five-minute walk from the school located at 17th and East Capitol streets to RFK Stadium where the Interhigh league championship is played each Thanskgiving.
"I'm not going to be that gung-ho and start talking about any championships over here," Fields said. "As long as we improve and show progress, I'm satisfied. The kids are doing fine and who knows, with a little luck . . . "
While his players are smiling again, Fields is still slightly miffed at the D.C. public school system. A physical education instructor at Hart Junior High, Fields has been unable to get transferred to Eastern.
"I had to take a full day's leave five times last year just to get over here and prepare the kids for the game," Fields said. "And, I took a lot of half-days, too, the last couple of years. No, I don't like that but what can I do. I stopped complaining about it and concentrated on helping the guys."
The players say Fields has turned the program around. "He is a good disciplinarian and creates a good atmosphere," said linebacker/guard Clifton Jones, who transferred from Anacostia this year. "We've got a lot of talent here and Coach Fields is getting the most out of it. He teaches us."
"We've improved in a lot of areas," Smith said. "We go over and over the small things until we get them right. Two years ago, we were an easy victory. Now teams have to fight with us for four quarters if they expect to beat us."