Football: Early enrollee Tommy Carnifax juggles classes, football, rehab while adjusting to life at Northwestern

Bobby Pillote, Web Editor


Most high school students spend the waning months of senior year waiting on college admissions or fretting over prom dates. Tommy Carnifax will spend his next seven weeks sweating through Northwestern’s spring practices.

Carnifax, a defensive end from Warren, Ohio, is the lone early enrollee of the Wildcats’ 2016 recruiting class. He’s wrapped up his high school studies and has already enrolled in classes at NU, making him eligible to participate in the football team’s spring activities.

Transitioning to college is hard, and it can be especially so right after undergoing surgery as Carnifax has. Though he’s still able to join some team workouts, Carnifax will be held out of practices while he rehabs his shoulder and knee.

“Getting surgery immediately after high school and then coming here three weeks later was tough,” Carnifax said. “But a lot of the guys have been really helpful with class. Tutors are really helpful. It’s just a learning process on the go. The first couple weeks were kind of rough but it’s starting to get easier as it goes along.”

Given all he has on his plate, it’s almost surprising Carnifax sounds much like any other new student at NU. He started off taking four classes but has since dropped to three and said he relies primarily on his roommate, freshman receiver Charlie Fessler, for support.

But it’s no accident Carnifax is taking it all in stride. Early enrollees are rare for the Cats, mainly because the program is scrupulous in making sure incoming student athletes will be up to the task.

“It starts with the family,” coach Pat Fitzgerald said when describing the early enrollment decision. “One day (the recruit) is the big man on campus and the next day he’s a freshman that’s coming in before his class and after the previous class. That sounds really fun, but it’s no fun at all. … It needs to be the right fit.”

Redshirt freshman cornerback Parrker Westphal is the only other early enrollee to join NU during Fitzgerald’s tenure as coach. His advice for early enrollees like Carnifax was to avoid distractions as much as possible, and Westphal also praised Carnifax for the work ethic he’s displayed thus far.

A strong drive and dedication will serve Carnifax well as he attempts to find a home in a position group that has become a source of pride for the Cats’ defense. Senior defensive ends Dean Lowry and Deonte Gibson led a stout front last season and it will be up to younger players such as Carnifax to carry on a high level of play for the unit.

Carnifax will have a shot once he’s healthy, as freshman defensive lineman Jordan Thompson demonstrated last season by making the two-deep depth chart. But first, he’ll have to get bigger. Carnifax is listed at just 245 pounds coming into college, which isn’t large enough to battle the mammoth offensive linemen of the Big Ten.

“The main thing is for those guys in the weight room to get him,” defensive line coach Marty Long said. “If there’s anything incorrect in his form or technique they need to work with him and get him stronger and get him developed and ready to compete.”

Conditioning will come with time as Carnifax returns to full health, but for now he’s busy enough ironing out the kinks of being an NU student-athlete.

“Originally, the plan was to come in and get ahead and earn a spot,” Carnifax said. “But after the injury and the surgery, I’m here to learn, get back physically and just try to catch up.”

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