Cox back in the mix
Mario Cox looks for a fresh start with Warriors
Hawaii running backs coach Wes Suan has a lot to choose from this spring.
Following the departure of Nate Ilaoa and Reagan Mauia, the Warriors have 12 backs in spring practice fighting for positioning on the team's depth chart heading toward the fall.
"We have a lot of good guys, it makes them more competitive," Suan said.
After getting both his school work and physique in shape over the course of a redshirt year, sophomore Mario Cox looks to be in the thick of the competition for playing time in the backfield. He played sparingly as a freshman in 2005, sat out last season to concentrate on academics and returns from his redshirt year eager to contribute to the Warrior offense.
"I see it as a fresh start in that everybody has an equal opportunity to get on the field," Cox said.
Spring practice is generally regarded as a time when preparation for the next season picks up.
That process started quite a bit earlier for Mario Cox.
The sophomore running back redshirted last season as he concentrated on his school work and spent the down time gearing up for his return to action this spring.
"It was tough," Cox said. "I didn't really want to waste a year. I was just trying to keep my body in good shape to come out here and start the season. It started last fall."
Cox played sparingly as a freshman and was held out of spring practice last year. He was reinstated just before fall camp, but sat out to concentrate on academics.
Now back on track academically and back in the mix for the running back job, he's part of a group of 12 backs vying to fill the void left in the backfield by the departure of seniors Nate Ilaoa and Reagan Mauia.
"He's applied himself a lot better as a student and athlete," head coach June Jones said. "He's made all the workouts. ... Way better shape than last year, not even close. He's given himself a chance to make it."
The potential Cox displayed as a two-way standout at McClymonds High School in Oakland, Calif., had been largely stifled early in his UH career. He wasn't cleared by the NCAA in time for fall camp of his freshman year and ended up playing in eight games and rushing for 71 yards on 16 carries in 2005. Then came last year's struggles resulting in the redshirt.
During his time away from the game last year, he hung out in the weight room and concentrated on increasing his strength while dropping a few pounds. Listed on the spring roster at 250 pounds, Cox said he's now around 240 and wants to get closer to his weight as a freshman when he was listed at 230.
"I knew I had to come in and get my weight down to be able to play at a good speed," he said.
Even at the lighter weight, Cox still has the beef to absorb the blows running backs have to endure as both blockers and ball carriers.
"I wanted to work on my strength and keep my agility up," Cox said. "I wanted to keep my strength up because the linemen in college are pretty big so I wanted to be able to fight those guys off.
"What I want to do is just make sure my technique is down to I can be accountable and be reliable to my coach and my team."
Along with getting back into the flow on the field, Cox has steadied himself in the classroom as well and is considering a major in Anthropology.
"My freshman year I wasn't really aware about how all the tests go," he said. "Now it's pretty easy. I know I have to stay on top of my syllabus."
The competition at running back appears pretty wide open as the Warriors try to replace the elusive Ilaoa, who averaged 7.6 yards per carry in accounting for 1,827 total yards and a team-high 18 touchdowns last season. Mauia was a powerful blocker as Ilaoa's backup and ran for 156 yards.
"We've got a lot of numbers and a lot of good candidates to replace Nate and Reagan," running backs coach Wes Suan said. "We've got a lot of potential there."
While Cox rested an ankle he tweaked in Monday's practice, freshman Kealoha Pilares drew "oohs" from his teammates during yesterday's team period as he juked past defenders on a couple of dazzling runs.
"We're sorting them out," Jones said. "Mario's done some good things. Pilares is a good player and we have players coming in who are pretty good."