CHAPEL HILL, N.C. -- Freshman defensive end Tomon Fox wasn’t supposed to see as much playing time as he has, at least not this early. He wasn’t supposed to produce at as high a level as he is, either, but he continues to surpass expectations.
Fox, who stands 6-foot-3 and weighs 235 pounds, played more than 20 snaps in UNC’s season-opening loss to Georgia and saw more than double that amount of playing time in the 48-23 victory over Illinois on Saturday.
“He played 56 snaps in the (Illinois) game, actually, which is more than we’d want any defensive lineman to play, especially a true freshman,” head coach Larry Fedora said during his weekly radio show on Tuesday.
Fox made use of his extended time on the field, recording four tackles, including a sack, and forcing a fumble in the fourth quarter.
For Fox, his opportunity to get playing time came at the expense of junior Tyler Powell, who missed UNC’s first two games of the season due to personal issues. Powell is back practicing with the team this week, but now has more competition at his position with Fox’s recent performances.
“I’m really, really proud of him,” defensive coordinator Gene Chizik said. “He’s one of those young guys that when we recruited him we felt like he’s got a chance to be a good player and a guy that can contribute early. To be honest with you, I didn’t think he would play 50-some-odd plays in his second game. But that’s where we are, and he did a phenomenal job for us.”
Fedora attributes Fox’s success to not only his work ethic, but the inspiration that the young and impressionable lineman gets from the veterans around him.
“Every snap he gets better and better and better,” Fedora said. “One good thing is that he watches how Mikey Bart plays, and he’s trying to match that intensity, which if we get that, it’ll be really good.”
It’s difficult to predict Fox’s ceiling only two games into his career, but he can find comfort in the fact that he’s already winning the trust of his coaches to produce when needed.
Is the jet sweep still a part of your offense with Ryan Switzer and Austin Proehl?
“Yeah we’ve done it a few times and just haven’t given them the ball. A lot of it is dictated on what the defense is doing in that situation when we bring them across. But we still have that option in our package at any time.”
When you have such a large group of talented running backs, how well do they support each other?
“First of all it all starts with the guy that’s coaching them. Larry (Porter) does a great job with those kids. They’ve got a great room, they really do. They’re called the dog pound and they really love each other, support each other, and pull for each other. When one of them comes out the next one goes in and they know that any one of them can do it.”
With T.J. Logan and Elijah Hood doing so well to start the season, how do you make the decision to distribute the carries?
“I don’t. Larry determines throughout the week which one is going to start and if one of them needs a break or if one is not being as productive as they should be then we’ll put in the hot hand. That’s the guy that stays out there.”
Do you look younger without your beard?
“You’d have to ask somebody who looks at me all the time. I don’t really look at myself a lot. I have no idea what the answer would be.”
This was the second week in a row with a safety. How can you avoid that in the future?
“One is that you can not be backed up to the one-foot line. That would be the best thing to do. But we were in that situation and we had a play that we had worked for a backed up situation and we didn’t execute the play; it’s as simple as that.”
James Madison is an FCS team, but they have been very effective in the past two weeks. What do you think about the team?
“You look at the film and it’s scary. They’ve had three punt returns this season, with all three going for touchdowns. We’ve got two films on them and they didn’t do a whole lot because they didn’t have to. So there’s going to be some things that they throw at us that we won’t be able to prepare for.”