DURHAM — When Justin Foxx was a freshman, head coach David Cutcliffe used to find him cleaning up the locker room. That was an early sign of leadership from the fifth-year senior who was recently voted a team captain.
Now, Cutcliffe is happy that he will see Foxx on the field against N.C. Central on Saturday, as the season opener kicks off at 4 p.m. on ESPN3. At the beginning of training camp, Foxxs ability to be ready for the first game was in doubt, as he was still recovering from an early Jan. knee surgery. It wasnt until the second week of the preseason that trainer Hap Zarzour told Cutcliffe Foxx had a chance.
I dont know anyone thats more diligent than Justin Foxx, Cutcliffe said. He did everything they asked him to do. And he was careful that he didnt do too much and set himself back, which is also very tough. But he just didnt waste a day after his surgery. It was amazing, Id go by late in the evening, and Justin was in there all summer rehabbing, doing what he had to do.
Foxx, who is 6-foot-3, 255 pounds, is listed as the starter at defensive end on the depth chart released Tuesday. While Cutcliffe is pleasantly surprised he will be ready, Foxx has maintained throughout the preseason that would be the case.
Its my senior year, he said. Theres no way I was missing that first game.
Foxx was limited by injuries last year, missing three weeks after surgery to repair a ruptured ligament in his right ring finger. Still, he was Dukes most consistent defensive lineman when healthy. In nine games, last year, he racked up 46 total tackles and 4.5 tackles for loss and sacks apiece. He hit his stride at the end of the season, averaging eight tackles per game in the final three contests. A sound technical player, Foxx recorded a career-high 11 tackles against Georgia Techs triple-option offense on Nov. 17.
It took until around July for Foxx to have confidence in his surgically repaired knee, he said. Once training camp started, it was the coaches and medical staff that decided to take it slow, holding him back from going full speed until the past week. Since then, there have been no signs of swelling, and Foxx said he feels great.
With all five starters back on the defensive line, as well as two backups at defensive end, redshirt junior Dezmond Johnson and junior Jonathan Woodruff, with starting experience, the Blue Devils dont have to rush Foxx back. Cutcliffe said he was comfortable playing Johnson, who started four games last year and two games in 2011, for 50 percent of the snaps Saturday. That depth is a luxury Cutcliffe hasnt had in previous years.
"It makes me sleep much better," Cutcliffe said of the depth at tackle. "I can promise you that."
With depth and experience comes heightened expectations, as the defensive line will be counted on to anchor the defense and take pressure off the young secondary.
Theyve gotten a lot more physical, quarterback Anthony Boone said. Every year theyve been here, the weakest part of Dukes football team has been the defensive line and the defense. That puts a chip on their shoulder. Theyve done a great job this summer and spring of putting practices together and making sure everyone is on the same page practicing techniques.
Now it's time to take what they've practiced to the fieldFoxx included.