Former Daniel Boone valedictorian/quarterback Ben Fox is still passing with flying colors.
Fox just completed his second season as receivers coach at Huntingdon College in Montgomery, Ala. The up-tempo Hawks led NCAA Division III in total offense this season, piling up 585.8 yards per game while putting together a 7-3 season.
Perennial power Mount Union was a distant second at 539 yards per game.
Huntingdon gained 774 yards, including 462 passing, in a 56-35 win against Ferrum on Sept. 28.
“There were times it felt like we were playing a video game,” said Fox, who graduated from Boone in 2005. “It was ridiculous at times. But it was a lot more about Jimmys and Joes than it was about the Xs and Os, as it always is. We had kids that caught the ball and played hard and blocked who they were supposed to.”
Fox said his game-day input is minimal in terms of play-calling for head coach Mike Turk, a former Troy quarterback who Fox says is an adept schemer. Fox does get to look for potential wrinkles during game-week preparation.
But talent and execution were bigger factors than outfoxing opponents.
“A lot of times 18- to 22-year-olds will go out there and invent some stuff,” Fox said. “And we didn’t have a lot of kids try to go out and invent stuff. We had a lot of kids that tried to do what they were coached to do as hard as they can over and over and over with a great level of consistency.
“And we had a couple of guys that were just better players than the guys on defense. That always helps.”
Fox played at D-III Washington University in St. Louis. He understands the passion required to play at that level. Attendance is sparse, media sparser and, most importantly from the perspective of a college recruiter looking to find young men eager to pay the price, there are no scholarships.
“Where it’s all academic-based and financial-aid based, the relationship you have with them becomes even more important,” said Fox, who enjoys recruiting. “It’s fun going out and meeting new people. Not every kid that plays high school football dreams about playing at Huntingdon, but just about all of them dream about playing college football. And to be able offer that opportunity to somebody is very exciting.
“It’s fun to see the look on their faces when you go in and tell somebody, ‘Hey man, we want you here playing for us. You’ve got a home here.’ That’s exciting to watch their face and the family’s faces.”
Fox joined Turk’s staff prior to the 2012 season after spending three seasons at Bryant University, an FCS program in Smithfield, R.I. Football’s a way to pass time in Rhode Island. It’s a way of life in Alabama.
“Football matters in the entire state, and it trickles down,” Fox said. “There are phenomenal high school coaches in Alabama, just like there are here in Tennessee. And the kids that we get are prepared and no how to play and have been coached hard since they were 13 years old. We don’t get a whole lot of kids that’ve been babied and patted on the tail.
“It’s crazy, you go to some of these high school stadiums and they’ve got JumboTrons. They’ve got … legitimate turf indoor facilities and nice weight rooms. It’s obvious football matters in these communities because of how they spend their money.”
Fox is impressed with the job a couple of coaches have done where there’d been a lack of tradition – Baylor’s Art Briles and Vanderbilt’s James Franklin.
“I think Art Briles has done a phenomenal job at Baylor,” Fox said. “You know, you just talk about where they’ve come from and truly changing the culture in teaching kids how to win. Obviously, (Gus) Malzahn’s done a great job at Auburn, but those kids were two years removed from knowing how to win. At Baylor, they were teaching kids from scratch how to win, kids that had never done it before.”
Fox and two of Huntingdon’s defensive assistants got front-row seats for part of Vandy’s fall camp this year.
“We went up there to watch them practice and just sit in on some meetings – the way they install and do everything, and it was really, really neat to watch,” Fox said. “They’re very detail conscious. They obviously have smart kids and very competitive kids and that’s why they’re able to win those games. Their kids are very assignment conscious and detail oriented, and he is getting the most out of those kids. …
“Don’t get me wrong; it’s not like they’ve got a bunch of kids that can’t play. But they play very hard and at a very high level, so you’ve got to respect what he’s done.”
Fox, a Niswonger Scholarship winner, had the grades and people skills to make a lot of money from the get-go in many walks of life. But his good fortune seems to have been made in knowing what would make him happy.
“I haven’t gone to work yet,” Fox said. “It’s been really, really fun. It’s been such a blessing, and I view this profession more as a calling than I do a job. …
“There’s a lot that goes into it, but the reward on the other end is pretty incredible, as far as developing guys and watching seniors graduate and watching them have success in the classroom and guys doing things that they didn’t know that they could do. … And it’s pretty fun winning on Saturdays, too.”