Wednesday, November 3, 2010 Updated: November 6, 1:33 PM ET
BC's Chris Fox finally settles in
By Jack McCluskey Special to ESPNBoston.com
NEWTON, Mass. -- As the years crept by and the games came and went, Chris Fox waited.
The Hull, Mass., native and Xaverian Brothers High School product kept his head down and his spirits up. He battled injuries (including serious ones to his ankle and collarbone) and fought for playing time. He moved all over the field, from kick returner to wide receiver, from running back to virtually every position in the defensive backfield, and got action off the bench in each of the past three seasons.
But until last week, the fifth-year senior had never started a game for the Boston College Eagles.
After getting much of his playing time on offense, Chris Fox finally found a starting role at cornerback.
Before practice Wednesday, Fox admitted that there were times he thought his chance might never come.
"At some point I think everyone kind of goes through that little stage," Fox said, "anyone who's not playing after their redshirt year."
It's a fact of life for some college football players; there's nothing to do but wait your turn, work hard and hope it all pays off sooner rather than later.
"More or less, pretty much everyone gets their shot," Fox said.
After senior cornerback DeLeon Gause injured his right knee against Maryland, Fox got his chance when head coach Frank Spaziani and defensive coordinator Bill McGovern called on him to fill in. In limited time against the Terrapins, Fox had two tackles and two passes defended.
And when Gause couldn't go against Clemson -- eventually deciding the knee needed surgery, which was performed on Wednesday -- Fox was tabbed the starter, the next in a long line of replacements the Eagles have needed in this injury-plagued season.
As many former backups have before him this season, Fox stepped into the starting lineup and delivered a big game. He finished with five tackles, including three solo stops, and three passes defended. Two of the pass breakups were on balls at the goal line; one was a sprawling, one-handed deflection that saved a sure touchdown.
So how rewarding was it?
"Extremely," Fox said with a laugh. "It was great to finally get my chance. It's tough to put in so much time and effort over the years and not exactly get what you expected. To get my chance to do something along the lines of what I'd hoped to be doing was great.
"And to do it well is even better."
Spaziani said the Eagles needed Fox -- a veteran player with athletic ability and positional versatility -- on the team to help in just this type of scenario.
"We want all our players to contribute, be part of the team," Spaziani said. "We want them all to be happy within the framework of the team. Certainly for Chris, who's had his ups and downs since he's been here, to step in and have an opportunity to help us, I'm happy for him. I'm also happy that he did well."
Mark Herzlich, who's been roommates with Fox since his sophomore year, praised the latest Eagles defender to step in for an injured starter and make an impact.
"He played great," the senior linebacker said. "There are mistakes that he made, everyone makes mistakes. But when it came down to it, when he needed to make a play, he made two big plays in the end zone and on the 2-yard line.
"I'm very happy to see him out there playing."
The only people happier might be Fox's family and friends from home, many of whom have been coming to games to see him for the past four years.
"I think my family was happier than I was," Fox said. "A lot of my good friends have been coming to games for years. They told me they were sitting in the [stands at the] games having an epiphany, 'This is way better than what it used to be. This is much more exciting.'"
And, of course, there's Fox's father. Tim Fox was an All-American at Ohio State under Woody Hayes and played free safety in the NFL for 10 years, including with the Patriots from 1976 to 1981.
The elder Fox always has something to say about his youngest child's football career, from high school to college, on offense or defense. But there are some things that Chris may know more about.
"Probably his advice for when I'm in the game wasn't as important as for when I wasn't in the game," Fox said. "It's tough because he played his whole life, he doesn't know too much of it. He started as a freshman when he came in in college and he was kind of thrown right in the mix.
"A lot of people don't go through a pausing stage, where they don't have their chance and it's their turn to wait."
Fox has certainly had his turn to wait, but he also had the good fortune to get good advice along the way.
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"The second you let it get to you, you're done. You don't have a chance," Fox said of the frustration borne of waiting for an opportunity. "You have to keep working and keep grinding because eventually you will get it and if you're not ready, then it's not going to happen at all and you're not going to get your chance whatsoever."
Fox said his father, though he didn't necessarily speak from experience, was a great help on that front.
"He told me to just every day in practice make sure I'm ready, could go one day from scout team to the next game starting. You never know, seen it happen plenty of times with lots of guys," he said.
And now that it's happened for Fox, with his first career start against Clemson and with another start coming on the road at Wake Forest on Saturday, he's determined to make the most of it.
"It's tough to realize that a lot of your goals are no longer within reach. I know Wes [Davis], when he was still playing, had mentioned to us, 'Minimize your goals and just maximize your potential.' Which kind of stuck with a lot of guys, realizing that you might not have gotten what you originally came for but there's still a lot to fight for and a lot to play for."
The Eagles' preseason goals -- win the Atlantic Coast Conference championship, make it to the Orange Bowl or, hope of hopes, to the BCS championship game -- are safely out of reach, thanks to a five-game losing streak. But with four games left for the 3-5 Eagles there is still hope for a winning season and of extending the school's consecutive bowl streak to 12.
There's also the chance that if the Eagles make it to a bowl game, veteran players like Gause and defensive co-captain Alex Albright could return from injuries and play one last time. And for a player like Fox, who knows these opportunities don't come around every day, playing to give a guy like Albright one more chance to play is goal enough.
"At least for me, that's enough to make me fight for my life on the field, or fight for his," Fox said.
Jack McCluskey is an editor for ESPN.com and contributes to ESPNBoston.com.