Sun file photo
Wednesday, March 9, 2011 | 2:05 a.m.
C.J. Cox saw the writing on the wall at the end of the last UNLV football season.
The 5-foot-11, 205-pound running back had only carried the ball 21 times for 64 yards on the year and hadn’t received a carry since the second week of the season.
So, he got together with UNLV coach Bobby Hauck in late November and started plotting a plan. With UNLV graduating several from its already slim linebacker corps and the defense desperately in need of more talented players, Cox would move to linebacker for his senior season.
After all, he was a highly regarded safety at North Garland High in Texas, turning down offers from Nebraska, Oklahoma State and Wisconsin to play defense for an opportunity to compete at running back at UNLV.
“We felt our depth was already decent at running back,” Hauck said. “It was a decision where he saw an opportunity, too. It wasn’t just the coaching staff making the move.”
It hasn’t take long for Cox to realize during spring practice the best part of his position switch. He will no longer be on the receiving end of those hard hits that every tailback eventually endures. Instead, he will be dishing them out.
During the Rebels’ first practice in pads last Thursday, Cox’s move back to the defensive side of the ball included delivering a few good hits.
“I’ve always been defensive-minded,” Cox said. “I don’t know much that is going on out here (at linebacker), but I am going as fast as I can and trying to hit someone.”
Cox has battled injuries the last two seasons, going from a candidate to likely start as a sophomore to finding himself out of the running back rotation.
But he has always showed promise. Last year, for instance, he was listed as the No. 1 running back after spring camp.
It’s that athleticism that has helped Cox’s transition. It’s too early to tell how many snaps he’ll play in the fall, but after a week of spring drills, Cox has held his own, Hauck said.
“The first couple of days here, he’s shown an aptitude for it,” Hauck said. “Hopefully he can keep it going, because we need some help here on defense.”
Filling a void defensively is only half of Cox’s contributions. During the recruiting season in December and January, Cox was one of the program’s main hosts when recruits visited campus. And, according to one recruit, he made a lasting impression.
Junior college linebacker Princeton Jackson, who like Cox is from Texas, said the two formed an instant bond. Jackson said it felt like they knew each other since childhood.
“I sold (the recruits) on the program being up-and-coming,” Cox said. “We have a good head coach who loves his players. Just being part of something on the rise like this is attractive. That’s why I’m here.”
Cox realizes his time at UNLV is coming to an end and takes pride in being able to help build new traditions under Hauck, who is in his second year.
“We have a lot of good guys on the team and he is one of them,” Hauck said. “He is a real firm believer in what we are trying to accomplish and he was able to convey that on the recruits. That kind of attitude shows up on the field. It shows up in him willing to switch positions to help the football team.”
When asked how significant having a winning record and reaching a bowl game would be in his final go-round with the Rebels, Cox took a deep breathe to collect his thoughts and gave an answer that would be surely echoed by teammates.
“Words can’t describe it,” he said. “Just to go to a bowl. Man, that would be awesome.”