SIU Football | Rolling a seven: Salukis’ Cox gets extra year

SIU Football |  Rolling a seven: Salukis’ Cox gets extra year

When D’Ante’ Cox stood outside the Youngstown State visiting locker room last month after SIU ended its 2022 season with a 28-21 loss, he did so assuming he had played his final college football game.

And it was a good game in a good season. Cox caught five passes for 108 yards, including a 48-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter that gave the Salukis a 21-7 lead that they chipped away at over the final nine minutes.

“I thought about all the opportunities I had missed,” he said. “The two years I didn’t get, I learned from it and took a positive out of it. I was happy to be able to go out with a bang.”

It turns out Cox will have another chance in his senior season. SIU coach Nick Hill revealed Wednesday that Cox won a seventh year of NCAA eligibility because he missed two seasons due to ACL tears.

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Taking advantage of the extra year of eligibility every NCAA athlete got after COVID-19 canceled the 2020 winter sports championship and spring sports seasons, that’s why the guy who tied his brother, Avante, for the team lead in catches and led the team in receiving yardage is coming back for one more year.

Of course, as Hill pointed out after his signing day press conference, it’s not just a matter of deciding to make plays. Even if a student-athlete has already received his diploma, he must still take a minimum class load to be eligible.

Either way, Hill is happy to see D’Ante’ make another trip in a Saluki uniform.

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“It’s not just the games,” Hill said. “It’s committing to practice, the offseason program, classes. We all got to see what D’Ante’ could do last year when he was healthy.”

No one knew better than the twin brother what was going to happen. In a summer interview, Avante came out and said that D’Ante’ would enjoy a breakout year.

At the time it seemed like a brother supporting his blood and nothing more. Consider that D’Ante’ hadn’t played a full season since 2017, when he caught 37 passes for 738 yards and six scores at Division II Missouri Baptist.

Also consider that he only played one game in the previous two years with SIU due to a torn ACL. Smart money wouldn’t have come during a go route for Cox that lasted the season, let alone becoming one of the team’s most reliable performers.

But after posting a donut hole in the season opener at Incarnate Word, Cox consistently made big plays. There was a 67-yard touchdown catch in a Sept. 24 win over North Dakota and another 67-yard reception the following week at Illinois State. He had three 100-yard games and caught 21 passes in the final four games, finishing the year with 46 catches for 696 yards and three touchdowns.

The unexpected return of Cox brings much-needed experience and a now-proven receiver to a position that has question marks. Avante Cox and Bryce Miller have graduated and Izaiah Hartrup, who had a good season in 2021, missed last year with a torn hamstring.

The coaching staff signed a total of six wide receivers on Wednesday, which means there is some uncertainty. In just months, D’Ante’ Cox has gone from question mark to leading man.

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“It’s exciting to have him back because he’s the only guy who has played a lot of football,” Hill said. “You lose his brother, Bryce Miller, guys who caught a lot of balls for us … it’s going to be a competitive spring for us. That’s how we like it.”

Hill and Saluki fans might not have enjoyed it nearly as much had D’Ante’ not returned.

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