Dustin Fry: Former NFL player, college coach finds home on Polk football staff

Earlier this year, Dustin Fry sent a simple message to Polk County head football coach Bruce Ollis.

Would there be any interest in having a former NFL player and Division I college coach help the Wolverine program?

You can imagine that it didn’t take Ollis long to pick up the phone.

“He has a tremendous level of experience. It’s nice to have a former Clemson and NFL player and Arkansas offensive line coach in your backyard,” Ollis said.

Thus Fry, who now lives in Tryon, has joined Polk County’s coaching staff, bringing seven years of college coaching experience at the Division I level to the Wolverines, where he is working with Polk’s offensive and defensive lines.

It may seem quite a leap for the 38-year-old Fry, but the former offensive line coach under head coach Chad Morris at both Arkansas and SMU couldn’t be happier.

“It’s been good,” he said. “I (am) excited to coach again at an easier level than college as in it’s just football. You don’t have to deal with recruiting and boosters, you don’t deal with all the other fluff that is college football.”

Fry’s path to Polk County began in 2019, when Arkansas fired Morris late in its regular season. With assistants jettisoned after the season and also battling a bit of burnout, Fry and his wife, Laura, decided to find a more permanent home, especially for their oldest son, Hudson, who is autistic.

“We started looking around and thought, we might have to go private (school),” Fry said. “But we ended up finding this and finding Tryon Elementary and how awesome the people were there, how well they took care of the kids and how much they cared. The fact that was a public school was amazing.

“So, in October 2020, we moved this way.”

After more than a year in his new home, Fry began to feel the urge to return to the sidelines and resume a journey that began at legendary Summerville High School in South Carolina and continued to Clemson, where Fry lettered four years and earned first-team All-ACC honors in 2006.

The St. Louis Rams chose Fry in the fifth round of the 2007 NFL Draft, and Fry appeared in four games as a rookie. Released in 2008, he had stints with Cleveland, Carolina and Denver before his NFL career ended in 2010.

Fry returned to football in 2012 as a graduate coaching assistant at Clemson before joining Morris’ staff at SMU in 2015, then following Morris to Arkansas in 2018. Save for a brief stint as a volunteer high school coach before joining Dabo Swinney’s staff at Clemson, this will be Fry’s first high school coaching experience.

“Coming in, there are things you want to do as an individual and with technique,” Fry said. “I’ve got to rethink a little bit because some of the stuff that was day one in college is not even day 30 in high school. It’s a very different thing.

“Before I built up everything I had of what I want to do, individual-wise, technique-wise, I had to see what type of players we had and what type of athletes we had. To be honest, I was pleasantly surprised. A lot of the kids can do a lot of the footwork stuff that I ask and they understand the things that are needed. There are definitely some techniques that I’ll be bringing into the O-line. I thought they had a great spring and did what we asked.”

Fry has also been impressed with the attitude of Polk County’s players, many of whom have to play both offense and defense on Friday nights.

“Just with the whole kind of mentality to have a limited number of guys, and they all understand their role. ‘We’re going to play both ways. We’ve got to be a linebacker and a running back. I’ve gotta be a defensive tackle.’ And there’s not really any (complaining) about it. It’s just understood that this is what we do,” he said.

“And the work ethic they have to do it. ‘Yeah, we’re going to practice an hour on defense and then it’s going to be like a whole new practice, we’re flpping sides. And you may have to do some scout team on offense.’ The understanding of that and that there’s no problem with it and they go right to work is what’s impressive.”

Ollis has been impressed with Fry’s football knowledge and says both players and coaches are benefitting from his presence.

“We talk a lot of football,” Ollis said. “He has already added a lot of experience and expertise to my coaching. He brings instant credibility as a football coach and player.

“It has been great having him working with us. His presence, his attitude and his work ethic are making us all better, our players particularly. We may only have him a year or two. The NFL or some college may call him. But we will take what we can get. He certainly is an incredible addition to our staff.”

Fry admits that he may one day return to a higher level to coach, but said he plans to remain a Polk County resident even if that does happen. For now, he’s more than content on the Wolverines’ staff and looking forward to the 2022 season.

“I’m pretty excited for the season. It will be my first season in three years,” he said. “I’m excited to visit some of the away games and visit some of the high schools around the area.

“But also about just getting in and having a purpose, trying to win each week and try to win a conference championship and a state championship. That, as a coach at any level, is the drive you have.”

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