Jack Fox: the next Owl in the NFL
At first thought, a punter might not seem too important to a football team’s success. But quietly, the punter does a lot of work that may go unnoticed. Pinning the ball inside the opposing team’s 10-yard line, bombing a 60-yard punt to escape poor field position or punting the ball away from a dangerous return man can all be difference-makers in a game. Not many punters are the star of their team. However, this past season, punter Jack Fox was the star of Rice football. Now he has the National Football League in his sights.
At Ladue Horton Watkins High School in St. Louis, Missouri, Fox was a quarterback first and foremost, with punting and kicking a clear second. He said he learned how to kick because he played soccer, and eventually he became much better at punting and kicking than at throwing.
“I always wanted to play football, like I always knew I was a football player,” Fox said. “I started in like sixth grade. I played quarterback at my high school and I played soccer, so I knew I could always kick the ball pretty well. Then I just got a lot better at kicking. I knew that was kind of my ticket to get into college.”
During his senior year, Fox earned all-state honors as a punter and a kicker, but relatively few schools were interested in him. He was seriously considering playing for the University of Illinois or the University of Wisconsin, albeit as a walk on. According to Fox, the Owls swooped in at the last second to offer him a scholarship and he took it.
Four years later, Fox has now established himself as one of the top punters in program history.. Even after receiving no playing time as a punter his freshman year (he only did kickoffs), Fox ended his Rice career this past fall with 9,207 punting yards with a 43.4-yard average, a school record for a career. Of his 212 punts, 74 of them were downed or the returner was tackled inside the 20-yard line.
All three of his years punting were exceptional, but as a senior this past season, Fox took it to another level and was named to first team All-Conference USA. According to Fox, former head coach David Bailiff helped instill confidence in him and current head coach Mike Bloomgren helped take his game to new heights.
“Right when I got here, [Bailiff] was like ‘You could be an All-American; like, you're good enough. You're one of the best punters I’ve seen,’” Fox said. “He was he was lying, he was kind of blowing smoke. But that really helped me gain confidence. Then when Coach Bloomgren got here, it was like ‘All right, it's your time to like prove it. You're like this great punter. It's your time to prove it.’”
Fox also gained national recognition in his senior season. In week nine, he was named the Ray Guy National Punter of the Week for his performance against the University of North Texas, when he punted the ball seven times for a 47.3 yard average, including a career-long 76-yard boot. At the end of the season, Fox was also named a semifinalist for the Ray Guy Award, the award given to the nation’s best punter. Fox said that the strongest part of his game is his distance and hang time.
“I’ve always had a really strong leg,” Fox said. “This last year I've really worked on accuracy a lot more. I've gotten really good at end over end punting when we’re inside the 50.”
Wins have been hard to come by in Fox’s tenure with the Owls. In his four years, Rice won a total of 10 games, including just three victories in the past two seasons.. Fox was one of three team captains in 2018 and he said that he tried his best to keep morale high in the locker room.
“I think whoever is the leader on the special teams unit should really try to be a positive leader,” Fox said. “If I saw somebody not giving effort or like dogging a workout, I would get in their face. But I always tried to be a positive leader for the most part.”
With his college career over, Fox turned professional, declared for the NFL draft and signed with Gil Scott, an agent who represents over 85 professional athletes, as well as many current NFL punters and kickers. Throughout the season, Fox has been watched by professional scouts, and this January, he was chosen to participate in the East-West Shrine Game, featuring a collection of some of the top college players in the country. Fox said he is confident in his abilities compared to the other punters that are trying to get drafted.
“I’m definitely in the top five,” Fox said. “I think I see myself in the top three.”
Fox was recently invited to the NFL Scouting Combine. The last Owl to be invited was current Houston Texans defensive end Christian Covington in 2015. Fox said he’s looking forward to heading to Indianapolis later this month, where he will be evaluated by all 32 teams in the league.
“I'm pumped,” Fox said. “I've always been a huge football fan. I’ve watched the combine every year. I'm planning on running the 40-yard dash, doing the bench press, and then doing the broad jump and vertical jump.”
After the Combine is the Rice Pro Day in late March, where Fox and a few other professional hopefuls will perform drills for scouts at Rice’s facilities. Throughout the spring, he said he will continue to work with Rice’s strength and conditioning coaches, as well as with professional punting services.
There is a chance that Fox could be selected in the sixth or seventh round of the NFL Draft, which occurs at the end of April. If he is not, a team could take a chance on him in free agency. If Fox is able to sign with a team, he will be the 10th Owl currently in the NFL, which is no small feat for the second smallest Football Bowl Subdivision school in the country. Bloomgren said that he has high hopes for Fox at the next level.
“Jack earned his invitation to the combine through a tireless work ethic, an attention to detail and a desire to become the best at his position,” Bloomgren said. “He’s taken natural ability and honed it into elite skills that are on par with any punter currently in the NFL.”
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