Big man on campus

Wade Askew

The new NCAA heavyweight champion is a Radio, Television and Film major who takes Mandarin Chinese, is a member of Sigma Phi Epsilon, has put in work for WNUR, and once sported shaggy bleach-blonde hair that made the 285-pounder even easier to spot in a crowd.

Yeah, you could call Dustin Fox unique. But you can also call him a national champion.

“It’s a dream come true,” Fox said after his championship match. “I’m sure everyone says that, but still.”

Four years after enrolling at Northwestern as the country’s top-ranked prep heavyweight, Fox has fulfilled all his expectations with a storybook senior season that included Big Ten and national titles. He also led the Wildcats to a 13th-place finish at the NCAA Championships.

The heavyweight posted a 29-1 record this season, the last win coming over Ohio State’s J.D. Bergman in a match that was as close as it was bloody.

In what Fox called one of the longest matches of his life, the two heavyweights battled until Fox scored a single-leg takedown in the second sudden-victory period for a 4-2 victory. Contributing to the length of the match were Fox’s cut forehead and bleeding nose.

Despite his injuries and subsequent timeouts, when the match was stopped to stop Fox’s bleeding, Fox retained his focus and eventually scored the clinching takedown to end the strategic, low-scoring match.

“I almost lost (my focus and composure) a lot of times, to be honest,” Fox said. “My coaches kept me centered and told me to focus. They told me to not be upset about the amount of breaks because I was winning. I owe a lot of this national title to my coaches.”

Coach Tim Cysewski called Fox’s added maturity the biggest difference between this year and the rest of his career. Throughout the season, the senior has used his wealth of experience as an advantage over opponents.

But according to senior 197-pounder Mike Tamillow, the Big Ten runner-up and Fox’s freshman-year roommate, growing up was not always something Fox wanted to do.

“As much as (college) is supposed to be a lot of fun, you’ve got to grow up sometime,” Tamillow said. “I think a lot of jumping into college for him was like ‘I never have to grow up,’ like a Peter Pan fairy tale for him.

“Now, I think he’s gotten to the point where it’s like ‘As much as I’m having a good time, and I like to enjoy myself and be a fun, outgoing guy,’ there’s things he needs to do. And one of them was finishing his career with a win.”

Fox has made his mark on much more than just the NU wrestling mats. Cysewski praised his heavyweight for the ability to “get away” from wrestling and become “distracted in a good way.”

While his focus may be unwavering in practices and matches, Fox has avoided becoming completely consumed by his sport. A student with diverse interests and a thoughtful mind, Fox does not fit the traditional image of “athlete.”

“That’s one of the reasons he came to Northwestern – he wanted to be challenged more than just in the wrestling room. He wants to know that he can do more than just wrestle; he’s got a great mind,” Cysewski said. “Some of the stuff he’s interested in are a little off-beat. … I think that makes it a little fun for him – for him and for us. Northwestern brought the best out of him.”

Fox has brought out the best in the once-struggling Wildcat wrestling program as part of a senior class that has overseen one of the most dramatic turnarounds in college wrestling.

In 2004, the year before the class of 2008 started competing, NU finished last in the Big Ten. But the Cats finished 13th nationally in 2005, 2006 and 2008, with a program-best fourth-place finish in 2007. The class includes Fox, a two-time All-American; Tamillow, who followed up an All-American campaign in 2007 with a 33-5 record this season; Ryan Lang, a four-time NCAA championships qualifier and two-time All-American; and Nick Hayes, a three-time NCAA qualifier.

Jake Herbert, who won the 2007 national champion at 184 pounds and is currently taking the season off to train for the Olympics, was also a part of the class.

The seniors shared a desire and expectation to make NU one of the nation’s premier wrestling programs, so Tamillow is not surprised at the Cats’ current position.

“I didn’t come to school here figuring our wrestling team was going to suck – I expected to get better,” he said. “I figured that we were going to get better, and we were going to make it better.”

Cysewski believes Fox and the rest of this class will be remembered for laying the foundation for long-term excellence.

“They believed that they could make a difference,” Cysewski said. “People are going to point back and say, ‘OK, who started it?’ And they’re going to point-‘well, this class did it.’ They turned the program where it should be and will continue to be.”

Now the program can boast back-to-back national champions, giving it eight overall. But none has come to an athlete quite like Fox, or featured a championship match so primal.

“My nose is probably broken, my face is all beat up, but I did it,” Fox said. “I achieved all my goals.”

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