When Tony Sanchez was hired as UNLV’s football coach in December 2014, then-Rebels graduate assistant C.J. Cox was struck by something he said.
“I’ll never forget one of the first things Tony said was ‘We’ve got to get people to walk faster here,'” Cox said. “He said, ‘We’ve got to get UNLV going. Everybody’s got to be a winner.’
“He’s a high-energy guy and that’s how he is in the office. When you see him walking down the hall, people kind of start moving around a little bit. It’s a good thing. I’m excited about him being here.”
Cox, 25, also has plenty of positive energy, which is one of the reasons Sanchez named the former Rebels running back and linebacker UNLV’s recruiting coordinator.
“He’s passionate about the university. He’s an articulate, intelligent guy and he’s an organized guy, which you need to be in that position,” Sanchez said. “We felt it was a perfect fit for a young guy that has a lot of talent and a lot of abilities to help us move forward.
“We needed to get more aggressive in that position and we think he’s going to add an energy to it we haven’t had in a while.”
With National Signing Day fast approaching on Feb. 3, Cox has helped Sanchez and the rest of the coaching staff compile one of the top recruiting classes in the Mountain West conference.
One of Cox’s myriad duties is to organize recruiting weekends. UNLV hosted 13 prep players this past weekend, including eight who already had committed verbally to the school. On Sunday, three-star outside linebacker David Tate Jr., from Fresno’s Edison High School also committed to UNLV.
Tate was wowed by Sanchez and Rebels defensive coordinator Kent Baer, but also was impressed with other aspects of the whirlwind weekend orchestrated by Cox.
“We saw a lot of stuff you think you wouldn’t see in Vegas,” Tate said. “We saw the Strip and everything, but the school looks amazing and the football field looked good.”
The recruits stayed at Red Rock, rode the High Roller at The Linq on Friday and had dinner at the Mendenhall Center on Saturday before going with their player hosts to UNLV’s 100-64 win over Air Force at the Thomas & Mack Center. The recruits and their families also attended academic presentations and met with UNLV professors; took tours of the campus and the Lied Athletic Complex, where they tried on Rebels jerseys with their names and numbers on them; and walked onto the field at Sam Boyd Stadium, where they were greeted by the school fight song and a highlight video. The players also had meetings with their position coaches and their parents had multiple question-and-answer sessions with Sanchez, who said he doesn’t have a choreographed recruiting pitch.
“You have to do more listening than talking at the beginning because you have to figure out what’s important to them,” he said. “We sell the city. We sell the great opportunity you have after graduation to have a great life here and raise a family and the economic opportunities here.
“We sell the university and all the strides and gains it’s made in the last bunch of years academically. And we sell the future of UNLV football.
“This is a great place with a great fan base and people are chomping at the bit to be successful. I think the kids we recruit feel our energy, feel our passion, feel our excitement and they want to be a part of it.”
A highly touted safety coming out of high school in the Dallas suburb of Garland, Texas, Cox accepted UNLV’s scholarship offer over the likes of Wisconsin and Oklahoma State for the chance to play running back for the Rebels. He was recruited by then-UNLV offensive coordinator Todd Berry.
“He sold me on coming in, making a difference and being a part of a program that was on the rise, which it was at the time,” Cox said. “My freshman and sophomore year, we were 5-7, and a couple games we should’ve won.”
Cox played running back for three seasons before switching to linebacker in 2011. He only played six games on defense before suffering a career-ending neck injury. While spending his last year of eligibility as a student assistant, Cox found his calling as a coach.
“A month in, I was like, ‘This is what I want to do.’ I couldn’t see myself doing anything else,” he said. “That’s the ultimate goal, I want to be a coach. That’s what I want to do for the rest of my life.”
After spending the last three seasons as a UNLV graduate assistant while earning his master’s degree in public administration, Cox needed a job and told Sanchez he didn’t want to work anywhere else.
Eight years after he was recruited by the Rebels, Cox is again excited to be part of a UNLV program on the rise.
“I’m always going to be a UNLV Rebel,” he said. “Coach Sanchez looked out for me and gave me a promotion. He’s a great coach and a standup guy.
“He’s a guy that’s going to coach you hard. I wouldn’t say he’s hard to work for. He just expects you to give it your best at all times.”
And walk faster.