Tony Fair is a seventh year senior, a graduate transfer from UAB now at Auburn. Four schools and a medical disqualification later, Fair is playing to enter the NFL in 2022.
The road has been anything but easy for Tony Fair, the most intriguing newcomer to the SEC ranks. I was told about Fair by one of my good friends in the industry recently, Jon-Michael Salter. “Do me a favor,” he told me. “Check out Tony Lamar Fair.”
I had seen flashes of Fair previously while studying for the 2021 NFL Draft. Jordan Smith, who played outside linebacker for the Blazers, entered the NFL this year and attended the Senior Bowl. As I was preparing for the Senior Bowl, I looked at Smith on tape. It was impossible not to notice Fair at the nose tackle, absorbing and oftentimes defeating double-team blocks. I knew he was returning to school, so my notes on Fair were very minimal.
They became even more impressive when I went back while reviewing for my upcoming Auburn Tigers 2022 NFL Draft preview. With eyes only on Fair, I saw a big, one-tech nose tackle with an excellent chance of moving to the next level. He was dominant in the Conference-USA and easily one of the best defenders I’d seen in the conference.
Auburn needs the depth up front. It’s a position group that they were very thin at last year. As I prepared my profile on Fair, I noticed some irregularities with his story. What I found blew my mind.
Tony Fair’s childhood was anything but easy
Tony Fair was an excellent high school player. Because of his football ability, he attended high school at Bishop Luers in Fort Wayne, Indiana, a football powerhouse prep school. They allowed him into the school at a significantly reduced cost because of his ability on the field. In his freshman and sophomore years of high school, 2010-2011, Fair was a team member.
Fair’s mother returned to their hometown in South Bend, Indiana, between his sophomore and junior years. Fair wanted to stay with his mother and followed her there, transferring to Washington High School. Bishop Luers was angry that he had transferred out of their program and asked him to pay the full cost of his tuition there. Fair and his mother couldn’t afford that, so Bishop Luers refused to transfer his school credit to Washington High.
Instead of graduating and moving forward with the class of 2014, Fair spent an extra year in high school making up for the credits that wouldn’t transfer. I already have some disdain for the American school system, and this story, personally, doesn’t help it. Is school really about helping young people succeed? Or is it about money? Fair got a full taste of that early in his life.
Indiana State (2015-2016)
Tony Fair finally made it to college and signed with Indiana State in 2015. He took a redshirt his first season in the program. In 2016, Fair’s redshirt freshman season, he suffered a serious concussion that removed him from the field for the remainder of the season.
When Fair returned for Spring Practice, the team doctor wouldn’t clear him for the field. “He said that it was good,” Fair recently told the Montgomery Advisor. “I’m doing great. He was happy with it. But he felt I shouldn’t play anymore because what if I get another concussion?” Recently, the movie “Concussion” starring Will Smith had been released, and concussions were an overanalyzed topic in football communities. “Everything was blown out of proportion,” Fair recalled.
Obviously, Fair wasn’t at peace being held off of the football field. His brother, Haki Woods Jr, suggested that he come play at Pima Community College for a season. That sounded great to Fair, who bolted for the opportunity.
Fair excelled at Pima Community College
When Fair arrived at Tucson, Arizona, he wasn’t a 300-pound three-tech defensive tackle anymore. Time away from the game, stressing about his next opportunity had pumped him to 365 pounds. When head coach Jim Monaco laid eyes on him, he didn’t shy from the challenge. “I’m gonna teach you how to play the nose,” he said. Fair was initially angry about the change. “I’m like, ‘I’m not no nose guard. I’m a D-tackle, a D-end.’ He was like ‘No. Here, you’re big.'”
Fair didn’t tell the team about his medical disqualification when he arrived. They didn’t ask, either. He passed the medical and was cleared for the field. Fair was straight into the lineup and excelled at his new position. He dominated at the JUCO level with more size and power, even earning 2017 JUCO All-American awards.
When transferring back into the FBS level of college football, Fair saw some decent offers from big-name schools. In fact, he initially committed to Nebraska. However, after committing, Nebraska pulled his football scholarship offer because he couldn’t graduate from Pima in December 2018. Nebraska signed Darrion Daniels in his place. He decommitted and continued his search. “I would like to find somewhere that I’d love to be at,” he wrote on Twitter, “just like I would have loved to be at Nebraska.”
Fair settled in at the University of Alabama-Birmingham, with two years of college eligibility remaining.
Tony Fair – wrecking ball in the Conference-USA
Fair entered UAB listed at 335 pounds and dominated as a one-tech. In 2019, he was an Honorable Mention All-Conference player. In 2020, Fair continued his dominance to where people noticed him on tape.
The Covid-19 year granted Fair an additional seventh season of eligibility. Some players on social media claimed that Fair was “cheating the system.” Obviously, now knowing the story, Fair is not. He’s battled through adversity with every stop he’s made. Things haven’t ever gone his way, yet he still fights. In fact, per Josh Vitale of the Montgomery Advertiser, he views it all as a blessing.
UAB would have gladly had him back in 2021 but wanted him to slim down to 310 pounds again so he could play more defensive tackle. Offensive linemen, for the most part, in the conference are smaller. Fair prefers playing the nose guard and believes he’s at the proper weight for the NFL. I can’t say that I disagree with him.
His journey to prove himself isn’t over yet
Tony Fair is not guaranteed a spot starting at Auburn. It’s a better scheme fit for him, as defensive coordinator Derek Mason runs a 3/4 defensive front. He will have to battle out Tyrone Truesdale for repetitions on the field, who enters his third season as the starter in the Auburn defense. For Fair, he’s spent his entire career battling through adversity. It’s nothing new for him.
One thing for certain is that Fair has an NFL skill set. From what I have seen on tape, I like him more than Truesdale. I think Fair fits what Auburn wants to do better. Most likely, Mason will use the opportunity to play them both in a rotation and keep them fresh throughout the game. That’s perfect for Fair. That’s what he best projects in an NFL system. Playing in the SEC is also a huge step up in competition, which will help Fair prove himself as a potential NFL player.
It’s also worth noting that Nick Eason is the defensive line coach at Auburn. Eason played ten years in the NFL with the Cleveland Browns before winning a Super Bowl with the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2010. He finished his career playing nose tackle for the Arizona Cardinals and played in 117 career games. “If Coach Eason didn’t have that background, I might have had a different decision,” Fair said when commenting on why he chose Auburn over Purdue and Ole Miss. “With the new coaching staff, especially Nick Eason and Derek Mason, I’m excited to see what they can turn me into.”
The sky is the limit for Fair in 2021. Don’t be sleeping on him. He’s got a chip on his shoulder and something to prove.