Faith, Focus and Determination Guide Cox

"Dark horse." "Sleeper." These are among words Arizona State safety Rodney Cox uses to describe the personal expectations he carries for his final season as a Sun Devil.

From a walk-on special teamer to senior starter at safety, Cox has often played the underdog role at ASU. After suffering a series of injuries during the early portion of his collegiate career, Cox has his target set on 2008 as the season for him to achieve his full playing potential.

A graduate of Cathedral High School in Los Angeles, Cox originally joined the Sun Devils under then-head coach Dirk Koetter in the fall of 2004 as a non-scholarship player, and remarkably earned action in 10 games on special teams that season as a true freshman and made the early strides to become a significant contributor for the Devils with a golden future.

The following season was bittersweet for Cox, after earning scholarship in the spring of 2005, he missed all but two games that year and was awarded a medical redshirt. In 2006, he still was unable to healthy and on the field full-time, collecting only three tackles in seven games.

Entering his junior season in 2007, Cox had struggled to build upon a potential success story created his freshman year starring as a walk-on defensive back that earned a scholarship as a sophomore; however, deeply-rooted faith on and off the field allowed Cox to remain focused and determined.

"My parents taught me the value of hard work and dedication," says Cox. "I worked hard starting my freshman year and I've kept working hard and never gave up."

Last season, Cox had the ability to stay at full health all year long and appeared in all 13 games and was a constant in the Sun Devil secondary, collecting 22 tackles – 16 more than he had accumulated in his career prior to the 2007 season.

A reliable reserve in the defensive backfield behind starters Josh Barrett and Troy Nolan, as well as veteran Jeremy Payton, Cox earned starts in the season's last two games over Payton when Barrett was shelved due to injury.

Cox's first career start was a memorable one, in ASU's Territorial Cup-retaining victory over Arizona, in which he collected four tackles and his first career interception in the third quarter off of Wildcat quarterback Willie Tuitama.

"It was a good feeling to get that first start," says Cox. "I was really enthused. To start in big games like the rivalry game with Arizona and in the Holiday Bowl against Texas really boosted my confidence, which has carried over into this season. Right now I'm on cloud nine and am ready to go out and make plays."

Riding the momentum of a season without injury and an emergence into the starting lineup, Cox found himself at the forefront of the spring competition to replace Barrett beside All-Pac-10 free safety Troy Nolan, largely battling fellow veteran Jeremy Payton at strong safety.

An excellent spring session vaulted the senior into first-team status, and further solidifying Cox's place in the starting lineup was Payton's departure from the team in July, making Cox the only strong safety candidate with game experience.

Despite limited starting experience, the 6-1, 215-pound senior feels no added pressure with the fact that the Sun Devils will field no proven depth at safety in 2008. Behind Cox and Nolan, the top safety options are sophomore free safety Max Tabach and junior strong safety Jarrell Holman, both junior college transfers and entering their first year on the field with the Sun Devils, while senior reserve free safety and career special teamer Angelo Fobbs-Valentino and redshirt freshman strong safety Jonathan Clark round out the three-deeps at this position.

"Troy (Nolan) and I just have to step it up and feed off of each other," says Cox. "Personally, I have to be a leader and just go out and make plays. As a group, fans can expect a lot of hitting and a lot of speed from our safeties. Troy and I are going to help develop the players behind us so they can step up when their time comes; we're going to be the best leaders that we can be out there."

Helping ease the transition from role player to starter is the added comfort of a full year in the defensive system implemented by head coach Dennis Erickson and defensive coordinator Craig Bray, while the defensive personnel remains largely intact, with eight starters (including Cox) from the Holiday Bowl returning for the 2008 season.

"This is our second year in the system, we know the plays better and we're just more comfortable with the defense," says Cox. "The play-calling will be more in-depth this year; as a defense we can just run around, make plays, have fun and just be awesome."

Entering 2008, the same momentum that guides Cox is the positive charge that follows Sun Devil athletics as a whole, helping further motivate Cox to cap off his collegiate career in triumphant fashion.

"This is a great time to be a Sun Devil," states Cox. "The fan base is great, the love and support is there from the community and it's great to see the stadium full of ASU fans each week."

Faith, focus and determination have been the staples in Cox's Sun Devil career, as he's taken the lesson from each setback and has his sights set on a successful senior season.

"My main goals as a senior are to play to the best of my ability and to stay injury-free," confirms Cox. "Something I learned from Josh Barrett, who suffered several injuries while at ASU but ended up getting drafted into the NFL, is to stay focused and to stay faithful. Good things happen to good people."

A feel-good story which was first inked in 2004 begins its final chapter in under four weeks, and the trials and tribulations endured by Rodney Cox have strengthened his resolve and persistence, and Cox has earned the opportunity to author a memorable conclusion to his days in Tempe.

"It's been a long road," reflects Cox. "Thankfully I persevered and worked hard and now I'm in a position to start and showcase my talents."

Joe Healey is a 2006 graduate of Arizona State University and a guest contributor to Devils Digest. He is also a feature writer each month in Maroon and Gold Illustrated and has contributed to ASU media guides, press releases and other official athletic publications. He can be contacted by email at josephwhealey@hotmail.com.


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