Notre Dame inside linebacker Dan Fox had started 25 games and played in a whopping 45 prior to his team's 37-34 win over Arizona State in Cowboys Stadium. Never, during that span, had he recovered a fumble or intercepted a pass.
He accomplished both that evening in Arlington, Texas, adding the coup de grace at the tail end of his interception: a touchdown -- with the bonus of a memorable celebratory dive into the end zone, a fitting conclusion to the most trying three weeks of Fox's football career.
"It just had to happen," sad Fox of his sideways plunge to pay dirt. "It being my fifth year, getting an opportunity to do that, I had to take full advantage of it."
The opportunity presented courtesy of teammate Stephon Tuitt.
"We were in a basic Cover 2, I was just protecting the middle of the field and there was a guy crossing," said Fox of the interception. "It wouldn't have happened if Tuitt didn't put pressure on the quarterback. The credit on that play goes to the D-LIne. I was right there."
He was there because newly minted starter Jarrett Grace, was not. Grace broke his tibia two quarters earlier, with season-ending surgery the end result. It was Grace who had taken Fox's starting job three weeks prior for Notre Dame's fourth game of the season.
"He was livid. He was mad," said head coach Brian Kelly of Fox's reaction to the demotion. "And then he handled it like a captain, a senior, a leader. Although he doesn't have a "C" on his shirt, he handled it the way that I would expect somebody of his character to handle it. He just went to work. And worked on getting better."
Fox had started 25 of Notre Dame's previous 29 contests, all but three of those starts alongside Manti Te'o in 2011 and 2012. Though he and classmate Carlo Calabrese were designated co-starters by Kelly and defensive coordinator Bob Diaco entering 2011, it was Fox that earned all 13 starting nods that season and 9 of 13 in the championship run of 2012.
He started the team's opening trio of contests this season, too, and at Te'o's former position, Mike linebacker.
"Look, he had every excuse in the book," said Kelly. "The first thing he could have said is, 'Hey, I went to Mike. I'm the Will (weak side linebacker). You know what I mean? He already had a built-in excuse. Didn't use one of them. Didn't use any of them. Just went to practice and went to work harder."
With Fox, Calabrese, and Grace involved in a three-man rotation inside prior to Grace's injury, Fox's snap total dropped from the high 40s as a starter to just 21 against Oklahoma.
"I thought that you can battle through any adversity," he said of his reconciliation with the move. "Stick to what you're taught, how the coaches teach you and you'll be fine. I just stayed positive. I understood there were a lot of different factors. I have all the faith in the world in the coaches. Obviously I was upset, but I understood there was a lot of things put into their decision."
Fox and Calabrese will earn the lion's share of snaps at Mike and Will through season's end. No rotation is likely to occur with their respective, untested backups Joe Schmidt and Kendall Moore. Both Fox and Calabrese can receive respite in obvious passing situations, though Fox could take Grace's role as a dime linebacker as well.
That duty vs. Arizona State fell upon Schmidt, a former preferred walk-on (he didn't have to try-out for a spot on the team) who earned a scholarship last summer.
"I'll help (Schmidt) trying to answer any questions he has," said Fox. "He's a smart guy, but if I can kind of take that edge away when he first gets into the game, be there for him at that point to offer anything that can help. I want to give him the best situation I can give him."
Fox entered the season with 131 career stops including 4.5 for loss, a sack (of Denard Robinson) and a forced fumble. He's added the aforementioned interception touchdown and fumble recovery plus 36 stops and three more for lost yardage to his resume.
He has a chance to add a Next Man In trophy to his mantle should things break right over the season's second half.
"He's got a great opportunity to finish his senior year and finish it in an incredible fashion," said Kelly. "So we're really proud of him, I told him that. We're proud of the way he handle himself in a tough, tough circumstance, and it's only going to benefit him down the road."
Fox's situation isn't dissimilar to that of his roommate, two-time Next Man In award winner Tommy Rees, a quarterback whose ascension and demotions to and from the starting role are well documented. Rees was the only housemate not able to greet him on the field following his Pick Six.
"It was awesome," said Fox of classmates, roommates and members of the Irish extra point team Zack Martin and Chris Watt celebrating with him near the end zone as they came onto the field for a point-after. "Those two guys and Rees are my roommates, I've been living with them for two years now. It was just a great moment to experience in my last season at Notre Dame."
With more on tap.