When James Fox first entered the halls of St. Peter’s Prep a little more than three years ago, he wasn’t exactly the picture of athletic prowess.
“I was a chubby little freshman,” Fox said. “There’s been a total transformation. I didn’t see any of this coming. There was no way I thought anything like this was possible.”
Fox just enjoyed a senior football season to remember. As a standout outside linebacker/defensive end for the Marauders, Fox collected tackles and sacks the way most kids collect baseball cards and stamps. He was a dominant force for the county’s premier team, earning Hudson Reporter All-Area for the second straight year and earning the Reporter Defensive Player of the Year honors.
When the wrestling season began, Fox, competing at 189 pounds, had to take over the team’s leadership role, vacated by the graduation of Kevin Innis, the 2010 Hudson Reporter Athlete of the Year.
Innis was second in the entire state last year at 215 pounds and took his immense talents to Boston University.
“Any time that you lose a great leader and wrestler like Kevin, it’s a big loss,” Fox said. “Trying to fill his shoes was almost daunting. I didn’t want to think of it that way. I just wanted to focus on what I could do. I was disappointed the way the season ended last year in the states [Fox won two rounds, but lost in the round of 12] and felt like I had a lot of work to do.”
Fox was a District 16 champion once again last year at 171 pounds and finished second at the Region 4 tournament for the second straight year.
St. Peter’s Prep head coach Anthony Verdi knew that no one could replace Innis, the school’s all-time leader in career victories.
“Losing Innis was tough and no one can replace him,” Verdi said. “I was just hoping that some of the seniors would step it up and fill the role that Kevin had as a leader. I thought Fox could do well. He had such a great football season and there was a carry over into the wrestling season. He came into the room with a lot of momentum from football. You always hope that the kids come out of the football season healthy.”
There was one aspect about Fox’s mentality that Verdi didn’t have to worry about.
“The one thing I was pretty confident about was that James would be in shape,” Verdi said. “He’s always well tuned. James is a workhorse and he came into the season in the best shape of his four-year career.”
Fox believes that his solid football campaign set him up well for the wrestling season.
“I think the big thing was my strength,” Fox said. “I got really strong lifting during the football season. I knew I had to bump up [from 171 pounds to 189] this season, so I had to be stronger. But I had my best football season ever and it was definitely a confidence booster for me.”
Fox entered the season at the prestigious Beast of the East tournament at the University of Delaware. His chances of winning were very slim, as Fox wasn’t even given a seed in the tourney.
“My goal was to place in the top three,” Fox said. “I knew I could do pretty well. My Dad told me that I was flying under the radar, that I could really go out and surprise some people.”
Fox first defeated the top seed, Kenny Courts of Central Dauphin, Pa., 2-1, in three overtimes to reach the title bout. Then he took care of childhood friend Dawud Hicks of Plainfield when Hicks dropped out due to an apparent back injury, with Fox defeating his youth wrestling teammate by a 6-2 score when Hicks gave Fox the victory by injury default.
“Fox definitely over-exceeded expectations,” Verdi said.
For his efforts, Fox was presented with the Most Outstanding Wrestler award at the Beast of the East.
With the win, Fox became the first Prep wrestler to ever win a national tournament. For good measure, Fox also captured the championship at the Mustang Classic at Brick Memorial last weekend, improving his seasonal record to 14-0 in the process.
For his efforts, Fox has been selected as The Hudson Reporter Athlete of the Week for the past week and the first honoree for the winter scholastic season and for the calendar year of 2011.
“It’s a great feeling, but I can’t dwell on it,” Fox said. “I have another goal in mind, to be the first Prep wrestler to ever win the states. I’m focusing on that.”
Fox’s early season performance has catapulted him to the No. 1 spot in the first New Jersey state rankings at 189 pounds.
“He’s far and above a lot of guys right now,” Verdi said. “I don’t think anyone expected him to do this well, but it’s been a tremendous boost to his confidence. He has a No. 10 ranking nationally and No. 1 in the state. This win [at the Beast of the East] put him on the national scene.”
Verdi likes the diversity that Fox displays on the mat.
“For his size, he’s incredibly quick on his feet,” Verdi said. “You can see a different level of competitiveness in him. He’s a better athlete now and has become an exceptional wrestler because of his athleticism, flexibility, and balance.”
Fox has already declared his intention to attend Harvard in the fall. An excellent student with a 4.0 grade point average and an astonishing 1990 score on the SAT, Fox will more than likely concentrate on wrestling at Harvard, but has not ruled out the possibility of doing both sports.
“It’s a huge relief for me and a burden lifted off my shoulders,” Fox said. “The decision is done and I’m going where I wanted to go. Right now, it will be strictly for wrestling, but that could change. I’m leaning more toward wrestling.”
And now, Fox knows that he’s no longer flying under the radar like his father said.
“There’s definitely a bullseye on my back now,” Fox said. “Everyone will be targeting me and coming after me. So I have to work harder now to stay on top. Now, it’s all about keeping up my reputation and top spot.”
And who knows? Maybe Fox can actually supplant Innis as the Prep wrestling king.
“I expected James to be a state contender, but now, with what he’s done, he’s right up there contending at the same level as Kevin,” Verdi said.
That would make everyone in Marauder Nation very happy. – Jim Hague
Jim Hague can be reached at OGSMAR@aol.com.