FRISCO, Texas -- The last offensive play of James Madison’s 2017 season ended when Dukes quarterback Bryan Schorr, while scrambling and trying to buy time to throw the ball into the end zone, had to unleash a desperation toss that fell harmlessly incomplete. North Dakota State linebacker Jabril Cox blew up another play.
It’s been the trademark for Cox, who will once again be counted on to be a major part of NDSU’s defensive game plan Saturday when NDSU takes on high-powered Eastern Washington in the Football Championship Subdivision title game at Toyota Stadium.
True, his position is linebacker. But it’s also part defensive back and part quarterback control.
“He’s not your prototypical linebacker,” said Bison defensive coordinator Matt Entz. “He is unique.”
He’s unique because of his combination of size - 6-foot-3, 230 pounds - and the speed at which he’s able to move with that size. He’ll get a major test Saturday with Eastern Washington’s Eric Barriere, who perhaps will be the fastest quarterback the Bison will face this season.
“I see an athlete who is really mobile,” Cox said. “Looking at film, we don’t know how fast he is but we know he has speed. Add to that his passing and that makes him dangerous.”
Cox will most likely never come off the field. If Eastern goes to a multiple-receiver set that calls for NDSU to add another defensive back, Cox may fill that role. He’s been matched up against both running backs and receivers in pass patterns this season.
“He is unique,” Entz said.
He was a unique recruiting find. Cox was a high school quarterback who was injured at Raytown South High School in Kansas City. Entz called him “under recruited,” and the results after two seasons at NDSU would bear that out.
He finished fourth in the voting for the Buck Buchanan Award that goes to the best defensive player in the FCS. He was named the Missouri Valley Football Conference Defensive Player of the Year. His four interceptions led the conference, with two of those being returned for touchdowns.
He is unique.
“I think he’s as good of a defensive player as there is in the FCS because he can do so many things,” said Bison head coach Chris Klieman. “Offenses have a hard time thinking, boy, how do we get around him? Or how do we throw over him from size standpoint? And just his speed and athleticism, I think it’s a game changer. People don’t realize that until they get out there, not only how big for starters he is but how fast he is.”
The last NDSU linebacker who possessed those multiple capabilities was Travis Beck, who finished his career in 2014. Like Cox, Beck was a sure-handed tackler who could cover wide receivers on passing routes.
“Travis did all the things we’re asking Jabril to do,” Klieman said. “Jabril is just a couple of inches taller than Travis.”
It’s a good bet Cox will at times act as a “spy” on Barriere, meaning he’ll hang near the line of scrimmage in case Barriere takes off running. It could be an enticing individual matchup between the Bison defense and Eagles offense.
“I just have to do my role, do my job,” Cox said. “I know I’m going to try to be around the ball, but I have to make sure and do my assignment first before I do that.”