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Former Juan Diego football star Dakota Cox is making history in New Mexico

Dakota Cox went unrecruited in the state of Utah, and last Saturday when the New Mexico Lobos visited Utah State, Cox used that as extra motivation to remind the coaches in Utah what they missed out on.

“I think of the people that overlooked me and didn’t see me as a good enough player to play for them,” said Cox. “It gives me that grit, that intensity to come out here and play as hard as I can all the time.”

Cox, a former star linebacker at Juan Diego High School, comes from a family of athletes. His dad, Tom Cox, played football at Southern Cal from 1981-1985 where he started two years at center for the Trojans. Dakota’s older brother Jordan played college baseball at Cal-Lutheran University. Chandler, the youngest of the brothers, is currently a sophomore playing football at Auburn.

Dakota Cox’s journey hasn’t been a traditional one, however. After not being recruited, Cox and his dad came up with a plan on their own. The two spent 13 days going to nine different camps across the country. Cox recalls taking epsom salt baths at night only to have to get up the next morning and do the grind all over again. He took his ACT test on the road in Kentucky.

Things started coming together for Cox after an impressive camp at Cincinnati. He ran a 4.6 40-yard dash and fell in love with what was offered by the school, football program and Butch Jones, who had just signed a six-year extension with the school.

Cox and his dad were returning the rental car the day after his visit to Cincinnati when his phone rang. Cox, his dad and the rental car attendant gathered around the phone as he got his official offer to Cincinnati. Cox felt it was the perfect fit and committed in June of 2012.

Things change in college football, and one of the main reasons why Cox committed to the Cincinnati program, the coach, was leaving for Tennessee. Phones went quiet and Cox didn’t know what was going to happen. His father called the school to see what was going on, but never got an answer. Cox started having second thoughts about his future at Cincinnati.

Little did Cox know things were going to change for the best. He got an official scholarship offer from the University of New Mexico to play football for them in the mail before ever taking an unofficial visit.

After spending a weekend in New Mexico with coach Bob Davie and touring the facilities, Cox knew where he was meant to play. He’d get to play as a freshman and have an opportunity to make an immediate impact and help turn a struggling program around.

“He’s come in and turned our program around,” said Davie. “He had to play as a freshman instead of redshirting just because we had no numbers. He’s the foundation of what we’ve been able to do here.”

Cox remembers the three- and four-win seasons. He remembers missing the last three games of the 2014 season due to a torn ACL. Those moments taught Cox lessons he’ll never forget, which in return helped motivate him even more.

“I had to sit back and really look at how I was going to approach this,” said Cox. “It was mentally exhausting going through it, but I just had to be the most optimistic person ever.”

His winning attitude and determination are what set him apart from those around him.

“Dakota is that rock in there, the calming influence when things seem like they're spiraling out of control, said Davie. “He’s so positive. He’s just such a wonderful person. All his energy is positive.”

A calming influence is what the Lobos needed last weekend when they faced the Aggies. On a fourth and 1, Cox found an open hole and stopped the Aggies from getting a first down. That play was the difference-maker in the game. The Lobos got the ball back and scored the game-winning field goal.

Cox currently has 374 career tackles, is eighth on the UNM career list and fifth all time in the Mountain West.

In 2015, Cox helped get the Lobos to their first bowl game appearance since 2007. With the Lobos sitting at 7-3, Cox is hungry for more postseason football.

“It’s awesome,” said Cox on the chance to play in another bowl game. “It’s something I wanted to do since I came to New Mexico in 2013. It was something that was always in the back of my mind. I wanted to create a culture of winning, and I know a lot of guys that came in with me all came from winning programs.”

Cox credits the other seniors who bought into the program, the grind and the grit. This summer, the whole team focused on having a “championship summer” to get ready for the season.

With the success that Cox has had, the opportunity to play in the NFL is a possibility. However, he isn’t focused on that.

“Right now I’m focusing on this team, the rest of my senior year, and doing the best I can,” said Cox. “Whatever is in store for me down the road, I’m blessed and humbled to be a part of that.”

The Lobos sit at 5-1 in conference play with their only loss coming to Boise State. The Lobos head to Fort Collins this weekend to take on Colorado State on Saturday.

Carra McManamon is a native of Washington State and is attending the University of Utah. Contact her at cmcmanamon@deseretdigital.com or follow her on Twitter: @curramac22