LAWRENCE – The oldest running back on the Kansas football team is a 24-year-old sixth-year senior who casually refers to some of his teammates as “youngsters.”
Taylor Cox will turn 25 this September, during the opening weeks of the season, which only partially explains a turbulent and injury-plagued three seasons at Kansas. Cox, a former junior college transfer, is returning from a torn Achilles that wiped out his entire 2014 season. The Achilles injury, suffered in the preseason preseason, came just one year after Cox took a medical redshirt in 2013.
In all, Cox hasn’t played in a college football game since Sept. 7, 2013 — otherwise known as the season opener of Charlie Weis’ second season. Now Cox is finally back, the veteran member of a rebuilt backfield under new Kansas coach David Beaty.
Cox, who rushed for 464 yards on 91 carries in 2012, will battle for playing time with sophomore Corey Avery, senior De’Andre Mann and junior college transfer Ke’aun Kinner. After being granted a sixth year by the NCAA, Cox will be the rare junior college transfer that spends four years on campus. But first things first: Cox, a native of Mill Creek, Wash., will continue his recovery process with an appearance in the Jayhawks’ spring game on Saturday.
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On Monday, five days before taking the field at Memorial Stadium, The Star caught up with Cox and retraced the last eight months.
Obvious question: Did you ever think you’d be back here for one more year?
Cox: “You know what? I was just taking it day by day. It was definitely a tough time, going through that injury, and how it happened and when it happened. But just looking forward, I’m just excited to be back.”
How did you manage during the rehab process? Is it hard to believe it’s been almost two years since you played in a game?
Cox: “I really haven’t thought of it that way. I’ve just taken the time away from the field to develop mentally in the film room and develop my body to where I want it to be. So, I think kind of the way I looked at it, is just developing other aspects of my game for when I do get a chance to compete.”
How are you healthwise right now?
“I feel really good. The rehab process went really well. I feel strong. I feel almost back to full strength. I definitely think I’ll be back full strength in the fall.”
When you got hurt last year in fall camp, what were the emotions like? Did you think maybe your college career was hanging in the balance at that point?
Cox: “It was a hard time, to say the least. I’ve never had a major injury like that. But I feel like I handled it well. I was optimistic throughout the whole process and I feel like it paid off for me.
“I just try to stay in the moment and not dwell on the past too much. Time actually flew by, and I’m just looking forward to the future and trying to be successful. Lawrence is a place that I love being, and I felt like if I had the opportunity to come back, I definitely was going to do that. So in my mind, I was going to stick with that option.”
There was a coaching change while you were going through rehab. Did that affect your thought process at all when you were thinking about coming back?
“Coach Beaty was extremely supportive of me. As soon as he got the job and was in the office, I met with him. He said he watched film on me and that he’d love to have me stay on the squad. And obviously (running backs) Coach (Reggie) Mitchell, he’s familiar with me and said he’d love to have me back as well.”
You’re one of the older guys on the team now. Do you feel like one of the leaders?
“Just in the locker room, I feel like I have a different view than some of the youngsters. I feel like it’s a great opportunity to show some leadership and get them acclimated to Big 12 play and how things are run at the Division I level.”
You guys have spent the spring installing this new Air Raid offense. What’s been the process of learning this offense?
Cox: “I feel like it’s been a smooth process, to be honest. I feel like this offense is made for the players to play fast. And I think everyone has adapted pretty well.”