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Jake Cox paves his own path as a Vandal

Apr. 7—The Idaho football team's junior tight end Jake Cox has roots deeply entrenched in the gridiron.

Cox's father, Mike Cox, has more than three decades of coaching experience, with his most recent stop being a three-year stint as the defensive coordinator for UTEP.

Mike Cox stepped away from coaching the same time his son went on to play at the next level.

The Cox family was residing in El Paso, Texas, when Jake Cox picked where to take his talents. The two-star tight end had offers close to home, such as Texas State, UTEP and UTSA. But he decided to travel more than 1,400 miles to attend Idaho instead.

"When I was in high school, I had a couple of different offers," Jake Cox said. "But this was my main factor — my dad was coaching at UTEP, and at the time, I'd think in my head, 'It's not real.' You think people are judging you, thinking you're playing just because of your dad, and that doesn't make any sense to me now. But I think that was my main factor."

Although Jake Cox didn't choose the last school his father coached for, Mike Cox does have ties to UI. He graduated from the institution in 1986 and played linebacker for the Vandals from 1983-86. He started his coaching career in Moscow, leading the linebackers from 1987-94.

It wasn't his father's background that persuaded Jake Cox to select Idaho. But it was similar, citing the family-like atmosphere he felt on multiple visits to Moscow as the driving force behind his commitment.

"It was the family vibe that I got from the guys in the locker room," Jake Cox said. "The big thing about Moscow is that it's a small town; there aren't a lot of people, so all we do is hang out with each other. That's awesome. We love that every day we get to be together."

Cox was a backup/reserve player during his first two years on campus. He appeared in nine games and caught one pass for 6 yards.

Cox took plenty of mental reps on the bench, playing behind Connor Whitney and Logan Kendall. Whitney was more of a receiving threat, finishing his career with 867 aerial yards and five touchdowns. And Kendall was a big-bodied blocker with a stout frame at 6-foot-3, 273 pounds.

"When I first got here, Connor Whitney and Logan Kendall took me under their wing," Cox said. "Those two were kind of like my older brothers. They're the reason I'm here today. Whitney and Kendall are the two best guys that have come through this program (for me), and I wouldn't be here without them."

Cox used what he learned from Whitney and Kendall to become the Vandals' starting TE in 2023. He had his best year yet. The 6-3, 240-pounder finished with 12 receptions for 95 yards and three scores.

The crowning achievement of Cox's career so far was a 15-yard TD reception in the fourth quarter of a 42-17 win over Lamar on Aug. 31. It was his first score as a college player.

"It's surreal," Cox said. "You don't think it's that big of a deal when it happens, but three years ago, if I told myself 'you caught that touchdown — it's big. But you're not satisfied. You want more.' Once you do something, you always want more. Last year was awesome, being the first year I got to start. It kind of opened my eyes to what things really could be."

Cox has always been a towering presence. But he's never garnered enough mass to play offensive line. So while attending Coronado High School, the coaching staff made an H-back position for him to play.

"That's kind of where I started," Cox said. "I was mostly a blocker. But we'd have these 7-on-7 tournaments, and I'd go play receiver. So that's kind of naturally how it went. I blocked (in the games) and then went to 7-on-7s to be a receiver."

Cox is one of 12 Vandals from the Paul Petrino era, making up a small percentage of players who last suffered a losing season in the black and gold still on the roster.

"I've seen both sides of it," Cox said. "When you're winning, you're having fun. Winning means so much, and you just want to win and go out with the boys on the weekend, there's nothing better. You want to be competitive, and you have to work hard. Winning isn't easy. If winning was easy, everyone would do it. That's kind of the mentality we go about: you work hard so you can go hard and have fun."

Cox is a marketing major and enjoys spending time at the UI golf course.

"I'm a big golfer," Cox said. "We got out there and play all the time. Hayden Hatten thinks he's better than me. But it's not true. I'm up on him."

Pixley may be contacted at (208) 848-2290, tpixley@lmtribune.com or on Twitter @TreebTalks