FARGO, N.D. - North Dakota State's depth at linebacker the past few years has been tested due to injuries. The Bison lost three seniors and two of them are looking to land a roster spot in the NFL.
Jabril Cox is one of the best in the Valley Conference and he's only a sophomore.
The injury bug hit the bison defense last year and it really reared it's head at linebacker. Then freshman, Cox was the only Bison linebacker to play in all 15 games. He cleaned up in post-season honors and has picked up where he left off last year with the pre-season honors.
But he's got other things on his mind.
"I've taken a lot more things more serious, like weight lifting. I know getting bigger, just because watching film and seeing how other guys are, I just want to be like the best," said Cox.
He'll have his work cut out for him this year.
"We need to challenge Jabril and move him inside some. You know we have Levi and Dan that I think are excellent football players, coming off pretty significant injuries. So we need to have some depth in there," said Chris Kileman, NDSU head coach.
The eventual move to middle linebacker seems like a natural progression for Cox, and it's one he takes a great deal of pride in making. The sophomore is very aware of what's expected of him.
"I know that I have to raise the bar and step up my game. And you also have to have a sense of craziness to you and to playing the game, and you also have to have smarts. You just have to have to the total package to play linebacker. I know I have to mature faster and not do some of the things I did last year this year," said Cox.
Cox also has even more motivation to be his very best this year as he's setting an example for someone extra special.
His younger brother Jasir is joining him as a Bison linebacker this year.
"I know he's looking up to me. So whatever I do, he'll think that's ok. So if I do something wrong, he's going to think that's alright," said Cox.
Incredibly close, Cox says they never really had the chance to play together in high school because of injuries, making these next few years extra special for him and his entire family.
"Finally having the opportunity to play with him, it's just amazing. Having him be with me whenever he needs help he can call on me and I'll be there. I couldn't ask for nothing else," said Cox.
Dickinson's Levi Jordheim and Dan Marlette return at linebacker along with Aaron Merchadel. Also don't be surprised if Ross Kennelly and Jaxon Brown work their way into the rotation at linebacker.