While his new Vikings teammates were going through workouts and learning a new system, rookie safety Dustin Fox was on the campus of Ohio State University wrapping up finals and putting the finishing touches on his bachelor's degree. The National Football League does not allow rookies to participate full time in off-season programs with their teams until their school year is over. Since Ohio State is on a quarter system, the school year extends well into June each year.
For Fox, the time was well spent as he took a pair of classes and an independent study to complete his communications degree. While the rest of the Vikings were getting their feet wet in preparing for the 2005 season, Fox was sitting in his Sociology 380 final on June 9 learning about racial stereotypes in the media. Following that test, his full focus turned to his new job, stepping into the Vikings defensive backfield.
"I stayed in good shape," Fox said. "I went through the same workout that guys here were doing four or five times a week and I had some parts of the playbook that I studied regularly." Fox was able to report for the initial mini camp the weekend following the NFL Draft in April but was not able to return to training with the team until June 13.
Since coming back to the Twin Cities on a full-time basis, Fox has had to hit the ground running and learn life in the NFL on the fly. Luckily, he has some advantages over his fellow rookie classmates that have been at Winter Park the extra weeks he was not. Fox has a built in network for learning the ins and outs of the NFL. His brother, Derek Fox, spent time with the Indianapolis Colts in 2000 and 2001 and uncle, Tim Fox, was a safety with the New England Patriots from 1976-81. "I talk quite a bit with my brother about what to expect," Fox said. "Things have changed quite a bit since my uncle played. Still, some things never change. It's always about competition, working harder and paying attention to detail. Those things will still be important to making it in the NFL another fifty years from now.
Fox has had to beat the odds to realize his dream of playing in the NFL and knows it never gets easier. "I've had to fight to get where I am," Fox said. "I like to think I'm a smart player and have good athletic ability. I've probably been able to get by on my athleticism up to this point. I'm going to have to really study and rely on my work ethic and preparation to have success at this level."
Fox will also be making a position change, but it's a challenge that he welcomes. "I've played corner for so long that switching to safety will be a little adjustment," he said. "But, I'm ready for it. I want to come in here and help the team where I can. Obviously the speed of the game is going to be different and there are some terminology changes you have to get used to. It's nothing that scares me. I just have to prepare well."
Since getting into the swing of the off-season program Fox has had the advantage of spending time learning and studying with fellow players and Vikings Coverage Coordinator Chuck Knox, Jr. "In many ways, I'm getting some one-on-one time with the coach now that I wouldn't have time to get when everyone is here for the developmental camps. Coach Knox has been patient and a great teacher. He's in tune with what I have to do to take this next step and has been very supportive."
Fox enters his NFL odyssey with another built in support system- his wife Nicole. The couple was married in the summer of 2004 as Fox prepared for his senior season with the Buckeyes. "My wife has been in town doing some house hunting and getting to know the area," Fox said. "She's going to be back and forth between here and Ohio for the next few weeks." Fox joins a pair of other rookie classmates, QB John Bowenkamp and RB Ciatrick Fason as players who begin their careers married.
That maturity is one of the things that attracted Vikings Head Coach Mike Tice to Fox during the draft and made the final decision to bring him to the team. "Dustin's a very athletic young man and a guy who will be able to compete for us right away on special teams as he learns the game," Tice said. "He probably doesn't get the credit he deserves as an athlete. He's got a 40-plus inch vertical and he's physical. He played corner in the Big Ten against some of the top players in the country. That takes a special kind of competitor."