MIAMI -- In the first quarter of his first college football game, Bryan Cox Jr., was sent into the game to play defensive end.
He was totally aware of the significance of the moment.
“I was nervous,” Cox said. “Really nervous.”
Check out his final statistical line from UF’s 24-6: zero tackles, zero assists in 15 plays.
“No stats makes it kind of hard to examine a player without knowing the scheme and what was called,” said Bryan Cox, the father, who was at Florida Field last weekend. “But it seemed like he was in the right place and doing what they asked him to do.”
The elder Cox (pictured below) would know. He was a 12-year linebacker and three-time All-Pro in the NFL who now is an assistant coach assigned to tutor the front seven of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. He’s watched his son, the football player, grow and, yes, critiqued him along the way. Starting this week, though, any evaluation will be done from afar (or via tape) due to some obvious weekend scheduling conflicts.
Like the Bucs opening the season on the road Sunday against the New York Jets.
And the 12th-ranked Gators (1-0) facing the Miami Hurricanes (1-0) Saturday at Sun Life Stadium.
That would be the same Sun Life Stadium -- formerly Joe Robbie Stadium, Pro Player Park, Dolphins Stadium, Land Shark Stadium, etc. -- where the older Bryan Cox became one of the most ferocious, fiery and best linebackers of his generation.
“Wish I could be there,” he said.
Cox, now 45, will be in spirit. More than that, really.
His blood and football pedigree will be represented by his son, the 6-foot-3, 260-pound redshirt freshman who played at Fort Lauderdale St. Thomas Aquinas -- along with with teammates Marcus Roberson and Cody Riggs, plus three members of the Miami squad -- and thus has an appreciation for what this rare trip to South Florida really means for the Gators and the region.
“I didn’t live down there my whole life, but I was definitely influenced by them,” Cox Jr., said of the Hurricanes. “I never bought into the whole [UM] thing. I always kept my options open.”
Eventually, they got him to Gainesville as part of a signing class that included five-star defensive ends Dante Fowler and Jonathan Bullard, both of whom played as true freshmen last season, plus Alex McCalister, who redshirted along with Cox.
A linebacker in high school, the UF coaches moved Cox down to end because they liked his frame and loved his passion.
“He has some technique things to clean up, but he’s a tough guy and he’s got a motor,” said defensive coordinator D.J. Durkin, breaking into a smile. “Yeah, like his dad.”
Those who watched big Bryan Cox terrorize offenses (51 1/2 sacks during his career) for five seasons as a Miami Dolphin (1991-95) and later with Chicago (’96-97), the Jets (’98-2000), New England (’01) and New Orleans (’02) recall that very unique motor.
And how it sometimes overheated.
Bryan Cox Jr., has some of that.
“Oh, yeah,” he said. “It’s in there.”
The younger Cox admittedly had a short fuse growing up -- “I was kind of an angry kid” -- but was advised early to control his temper by guess who.
Cox recalled how his dad once pulled him aside and told him how important it was to channel his mean streak.
“My father told me you could be under control and still be a freak on the field,” Cox said. “He knew he didn’t do that very well, but he wanted me to be better than that. He taught me to try and unleash it in the right way.”
Added Durkin: “I watched his dad as a player and I think they’re a lot of similarities. “Bryan [Jr.] is tough and physical and we love that about him. And he’s such a young guy and still learning a lot about his position.”
The process continues Saturday. Close to home.
In more ways than one.
“He has improved beyond where I thought he would be at this stage, yet has so much room to grow and become so much better,” said Cox, who during his career played for Don Shula, Bill Parcells and Bill Belichick. “That’s the thing I keep harping on with him now [is] you’ve come a tremendous way but have so far to go. based on where you as a redshirt freshman.”
Eleven years ago, in February 2002 and in the twilight of a wonderful NFL run, the elder Cox grabbed his son, then just eight years old, and carried him onto the floor of the Superdome to celebrate the Patriots’ 20-17 defeat of the St. Louis Rams in Super Bowl XXXVI.
Chances are, the Coxes will share many more football memories together.
His father, though, will settle for just plain memories.
“That was one the proudest moments of my life,” Cox said of that Super Bowl. “But I would trade that moment for my kid’s ability to go to school and graduate, whether having a football career or not. I’m so proud of my son because he’s come so far and become such a good young man and tried to do things right ... and that’s a dream for any dad.”