Sept. 26, 2013
By: Denise Skwarcan Irish Eyes
Like many college kids, Irish linebacker Dan Fox enjoys playing video games, hanging out with his roommates (and fellow teammates Nick Martin, Tommy Rees and Chris Watt) and spending time with his family during free periods of time. But when asked if there was anything he liked to do that might surprise people, Fox only hesitated for a second.
"I like to read," the fifth-year senior says. "People probably don't think linebackers like to read, but I've got a whole stack over there. Right now I'm reading Slaughterhouse-Five, and I'm in the middle of reading the Million Dollar Financial Advisor because that kind of interests me too."
And, if Fox's football stock continues to rise, he may need a top financial advisor or find the tips handy himself after he signs an NFL contract. For now, however, the 6-3, 245-pound Fox is focusing on the season at hand, using his past to succeed in the present and guide the younger players into the future. It is a responsibility of which Fox is aware and accepts willingly.
"I've started off 1-1 (in 2010), 0-2 (in 2011) and 2-0 last year, so I know what it takes," says Fox after Notre Dame fell to 1-1 following a loss to Michigan on Sept. 7. "We can get better. We just need to play for each other and play for the coaches...play together. I want to grow my game and my knowledge of the game, but that kind of takes a backburner to the team winning...whatever it takes to win. And I know that the better I play, the better our chances of winning.
"Yeah, I do feel a little pressure because a lot of people are turning toward me to make plays. But I'm excited about that."
As a safety at St. Ignatius High School in Rocky River, Ohio, Fox won a state championship as a senior in 2008, where he also played basketball and ran track. But Fox knew that football was the sport for him. And, while he didn't have an overwhelming passion to root for any one college team, Fox knew that Notre Dame was special because the team was popular in the Cleveland suburb where he grew up.
"I always thought football was the most fun for me," Fox notes. "Then, obviously, once the scholarship offers started coming in I figured that was probably the way I should go.
"I knew about Notre Dame. I knew it was a very good academic institution and that there's a lot of prestige that goes along with the name," he says. "Saying I went to Notre Dame or I that I graduated from Notre Dame is a big deal. And two guys from my high school played at Notre Dame (from 2006-09), Robby Parris and John Ryan. It was just kind of where I wanted to go when I started getting these offers from other schools. Notre Dame didn't offer me right away, but once they did I knew that's where I wanted to go."
As the Irish limped to a 6-6 finish during his rookie campaign in '09, Fox started off relegated to the sideline. Then one game turned into 12 while Fox grew into his body and the linebacker position, which resulted in not seeing any playing time that year. In hindsight often times, things are easier to understand, but Fox's freshman season was still a hard adjustment.
"It was (tough) but I understood that I needed a year to develop, Fox says. "I knew what it took to be a player but I didn't think I was at that point yet."
Coupled with that was the departure of head coach Charlie Weis after five years at the Notre Dame helm. But hard work - and a little bit of luck - were in Fox`s corner and things started to change with Weis' replacement.
"It was difficult because you're not really sure what's going to happen (with a coaching change), although I never really thought about leaving," Fox remembers. "And, luckily for me, the new head coach was Coach (Brian) Kelly who had recruited me at Cincinnati. So that was good."
Fox made his collegiate debut in the season opener against Purdue in 2010, working with the kickoff and punt coverage units. He played in all 13 games that season, collecting 20 tackles, including a season-high seven in the victory over Navy. Fox also totaled 270 snaps on special teams, tying him with two others for the most of any Irish player, while working on defense for just 55 plays. While he would've liked more playing time at linebacker, at least Fox was on the field.
"I remember the first game I played in and it was against Purdue ironically," says Fox prior to Notre Dame's Sept. 14 outing versus the in-state Boilermakers. "I just remember running down the field and it was kind of surreal actually. It was still hard, though, because I wanted to be out there. But I embraced my role whether it was on defense or special teams. I tried to make the best of the opportunities that I had."
The tide finally turned for Fox in '11. He started all 13 games at inside linebacker and, while the team mirrored its 8-5 finish from a year earlier, Fox was ascending among the veterans on the squad. Then during Notre Dame's run to the title game last season in 2012, Fox shared time at the position with fellow senior Carlo Calabrese. Fox earned nine starts and collected 63 tackles, which ranked fourth on the team.
"I was growing as a player and trying to get better at my game," Fox comments. "I was just trying to figure out how to get to the next level. The more snaps I got, the more comfortable it was. And the more plays I had, the better I got. It was great."
Unfortunately, the magical season came to a crushing end with a 42-14 loss to Alabama in the national title game. As graduation loomed, Fox now had to decide whether to apply for a fifth year or to move on. But Fox said it was an easy one and, most likely, one that wouldn't have changed had the results of the title game been different.
"I don't know if things would've been different if we had won (the national championship), but I always considered coming back," Fox says. "I don't think I was ready to move on. I still think I needed another year to develop. Plus, I knew there was no better place to play than Notre Dame, and there was a linebacker spot opening up (with the graduation of All-American Manti Te'o)."
Another decision that wasn't too hard for Fox to make was cutting his flowing locks. The long blond tresses had become recognizable during his Irish career, coming out the back of his helmet and covering part of the No. 48 on his jersey. But the desire for a new beginning, along with some pressure from his parents, got Fox into the barber's chair, after which he donated his hair to Locks of Love.
"I cut it right after the national championship game," Fox recalls. "I kind of had long hair before (coming to Notre Dame), although we had to keep it well-groomed and off the collar at my high school. So when I got here I thought I might as well just let it grow. I liked it. But I grew it for four years and this was kind of a fresh start for me. So I thought it was just time to get rid of it."
Fox also had shoulder surgery after the game versus the Crimson Tide and, while not serious, Fox was withheld from contact during spring practice. But it hasn't stopped his progress or production in any way this season. After three games, Fox leads the team with 20 tackles, including a game-high 10 versus the Wolverines. The expectations are still high, for both Fox and the Irish, and improving is an ongoing process.
"I always walk off the field after a game thinking about the mistakes I made and how I can be better next week...whether we win or lose," Fox says. "Then I want to take a look at the film and see what I can work on."
And it showed. Despite the loss in Ann Arbor, Kelly praised Fox and his cohorts for their efforts.
"You know, I think by and large, we need to continue to get better," noted Kelly prior to the Purdue contest. "I thought we got better inside. I thought that the combination of (Jarrett) Grace and Calabrese and Fox...their play was considerably better from week one to week two. We'll continue to improve there."
It's still early in the season, and Fox clearly has the 2013 edition of the Fighting Irish in his crosshairs. But the next level is always somewhere in the back of this thoughts.
"Right now I'm focused on my college career," says Fox who graduated from the Mendoza College of Business in May with a degree in management consulting. "But the NFL...that's one of my dreams."