When Jabril Cox told the media moments after he was drafted by the Dallas Cowboys in the fourth round that Frisco is "like home to me," he said it in a humble, neutral tone.
But don't be mistaken, it was something of a brag. The FCS State Championship game is held at Toyota Stadium, right next to The Star in Frisco, and Cox's North Dakota State Bison always left the area happy.
"Three national championships down in Frisco," Cox said matter of factly. "I'm very familiar with the area."
The 23-year-old linebacker is probably the most dominant defensive player in North Dakota State's program in recent history, but after his third National Championship, he wanted to challenge himself at a higher level of competition. So in 2020 he applied to be a graduate transfer in order to play for the LSU Tigers in the SEC.
"I'm a competitor," Cox said. "That's something I always strive to do; just compete against the best."
His performance competing in the FCS alone would have intrigued NFL scouts, so it was something of a risk for him to go to the SEC and possibly get exposed by bigger athletes. That, of course, is not what happened. Cox was one of the few bright spots last season for a struggling LSU defense. He recorded a sack and returned an interception for a touchdown in his first SEC game against Mississippi State. All season he showcased tremendous coverage abilities as a linebacker, a trait highly coveted by NFL teams in 2021.
"It helped flourish my skills to compete at a high level," Cox said of stepping up his competition before coming to the NFL. He claims that the upgrade in talent is real and noticeable, and he understands that by the time you get to the NFL, you need way more than talent to excel.
"It's just the amount of athletes around you going from Division II to the SEC," Cox explained. "Up in the league, it's a match-up game. It's a matter of who can win their one-on-ones, because everyone in the league is good."
Cox expected to be drafted on Friday night, and plenty of draft experts were surprised that he was still on the board for the Cowboys' 115th pick. The Cowboys reportedly had a second-round grade on Cox and couldn't pass him up in the fourth round even after having drafted linebacker Micah Parsons in the first round. Cox didn't enjoy Friday night wrapping up without a phone call from an NFL team while his extended family was all around him. But he's confident in the way it worked out.
"Coming out of high school I was under recruited and underrated," Cox said, confidently. "It's nothing new. It's a chip on my shoulder. I can't wait to show the league what they missed out on."
He said that he watched film of Cowboys linebackers Leighton Vander Esch and Jaylon Smith when he was a younger college player and that he admired them enough to try to take things from their game to add to his own. He knows those two and Parsons will make up stiff competition for a fourth-round pick. But Cox has never been afraid of higher competition.
"Those are three elite athletes," Cox said of Smith, Vander Esch, and Parsons. "And I think I fit in with them."