FARGO — North Dakota State linebacker Jabril Cox announced in early March that he was going to enter the NCAA transfer portal. It almost turned into another recruiting process for Bison head coach Matt Entz, who said Friday he had almost daily conversations with Cox in the last few weeks.
It ended on Thursday when Cox announced he was going to graduate transfer to Louisiana State for his last season of eligibility.
“Excited for him,” Entz said. “We continued to plead our case and tried to communicate to him why we thought he should stay. I understand him and his family are looking for bigger and better things.”
Entz took it as a compliment, really, that LSU would go to the FCS level and take a player who it thinks will start in the Southeastern Conference. Cox will be going from the FCS defending national champions to the defending FBS champs.
“I’m intrigued about the fact our program was able to recruit and develop a young man that the FBS national champion thinks that he can help them,” Entz said. “So I think that says a lot about our coaching and development here at NDSU.”
A key for Cox’s replacement will be the ability to cover receivers in pass coverage, a skill of which Cox was very proficient. The weakside linebacker position requires a steady mix of defending the run and stopping the pass.
“Jabril did an unbelievable job of taking away a number of receivers over the course of the last three years,” Entz said. “That was a big part of it. He has a big, long body.”
His departure leaves the Bison with two returning starters at linebacker in junior Jackson Hankey in the middle and senior Aaron Mercadel on the outside. As to who will take Cox’s outside linebacker spot would have been a hot topic if spring football were in full swing.
It could be another Cox. Junior Jasir Cox, Jabril's brother, has the most returning game experience and finished with 14 tackles last fall.
Entz said redshirt freshman Nick Kubitz is up to between 215 and 220 pounds.
“He had a really good first year and moves really well,” he said.
Sophomore Mitchell Kartes, one of the top high school players in Minnesota until he tore his ACL, will be in the mix. True freshman Cole Wisniewski from Sparta, Wis., may get a shot to play right away.
“He falls in there someway, somehow,” Entz said.
Junior strong safety James Kaczor saw a lot of time at linebacker, especially late in the season when the Bison were in the midst of their playoff run, and finished fourth on the team in tackles right behind Jabril Cox. Kaczor started for Cox when Cox missed the University of South Dakota game with a minor knee injury.
“We’ve been preparing with the idea this probably could take place,” Entz said of Jabril Cox leaving. “It’s not like we’re getting caught empty handed or unprepared.”
A few NDSU players took to Twitter to voice their reaction. Wide receiver Phoenix Sproles tweeted “Hate to see it, but love to see it. Go be great Brillo.” Former Bison standout Marcus Williams tweeted “Geaux crazy!”
Brillo is Cox’s nickname and also his Twitter handle. Not long after Cox made his decision official, LSU head coach Ed Orgeron tweeted “Hold That Tiger!” in an apparent response to Cox. Orgeron tweets that phrase often with commitments.
Entz, who was Cox’s position coach in the player’s first two years at NDSU, said he “challenged” Cox with three things when he was first recruited from Raytown South High School in Kansas City.
“Get your degree, become the best linebacker in the country and help us win national championships,” Entz said. “He did all of those things for us.”