Don’t expect Nate Cox to use the old cliches. He knows better.
You won’t hear Cox — a 2013 Youngstown State University football recruit — refer to the gridiron as a “battlefield.” When he steps on the turf in the fall, Cox won’t describe playing 60 minutes of football as “soldiers going to war,” like many players often do.
Having served five months in Afghanistan as a sergeant for the U.S. Marine Corps, Cox has literally been to war.
In turn, his age, 26, along with his outlook on life, is different than most of his teammates.
“You see stuff and see how people have to live over there and the lifestyles they have to live with,” Cox said. “When you come back over here to the United States, you’re just a lot more thankful for the things you do have.”
A transfer from Santa Ana College, the 6-foot-3-inch, 255-pound Cox has a chance to make an impact on the YSU defensive line.
And with everything he’s been through, you can bet he’s grateful, considering that coming out of high school in 2005, football was not in Cox’s plans.
“I have so many feelings about the whole thing,” Cox said. “I don’t know if it’s really set in yet that I’m here and have this opportunity.”
A native of Plainfield, Ind., Cox was a three-year letter winner for the Plainfield High School football team. After graduating, he enrolled in classes at Indiana State University.
Then, one day early in his time at ISU, Cox made what he called a “spur of the moment decision.”
“I wasn’t sure if school was the right thing for me at the time,” he said. “I went and talked to a Marine Corps recruiter, and I really liked what he had to say.” It was just that simple, and Cox joined the military.
“No heroic story about why I wanted to be Marine or anything like that,” he said. “I went and did it.”
He immediately left ISU and started basic training in San Diego. Following that, Cox was deployed two times over the next five years, spending time in the Philippines, Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand.
“I learned a lot of things and I matured a lot faster than most guys, 18- and 19-year-olds, do. I really had no other choice,” Cox said. “Lives are on the line at all times, whether it’s in training or if it’s overseas in combat. So, I matured really fast and learned a lot of good leadership traits.”
After his service contract ended in 2010, Cox could have become a civilian again.
With volunteers needed for Afghanistan, Cox extended his contract and was deployed for the third time.
“That’s why you join: to go overseas and fight for this country,” he said.
Cox called those five months a “blessing.” During that time, he was responsible for casualty evacuation: flying into battlefields, recovering the injured and loading them into helicopters.
“There’s a lot of bad and a lot of good that came from it,” Cox said. “But, overall, it was an experience that sets a whole new outlook on life in regards to things that are important and things that you should let go.”
When he thinks of those five months in Afghanistan, Cox said he focuses on the good instead of the bad. One of his main goals was to have a positive effect on the Afghan youths. When among the public, Cox gave candy, pens, pencils and paper to the children.
“They’re the future of that country, and I tried to have an impact,” he said. “I didn’t want it to be that the first American they saw was shooting at them or shooting somebody from their country. There, you’re able to mold the younger generation a lot more than maybe a 30-year-old man — someone who’s been fighting all his life and has lived a very rough life.”
It was during the end of his deployment that he had a change of heart. After almost six years in the military, the now mature Cox was ready for the classroom. And football.
“I had never really lived what you can say is a standard or normal post 18-year-old life,” he said.
Still, Cox will never undervalue his experiences.
“I had a great run in the Marine Corps,” he said. “I really enjoyed what I did.”