After his cameo appearance in Nevada's 55-28 win over New Mexico State last Saturday, Wolf Pack quarterback Nate Cox gained about 800 followers on Instagram.
And it didn't have as much to do with his right arm as it did his left leg. Cox might be the most unique player in the nation. At 6-foot-9, he's taller than any quarterback in NFL history, a title held by Reno resident Dan McGwire (6-8). But as everybody learned during the Wolf Pack's win last week on CBS Sports Network, Cox punts with his left foot and kicks field goals with his right foot, a most interesting combination. And to top things off, he also played in the Little League World Series at age 12.
"That's a real thing," Cox said of his left-footed punting and right-footed kicking.
Cox admits he doesn't know how it came about. It might date back to his soccer career, although he was predominantly right-footed back then. Basically, Cox just does what feels most natural.
"Honestly, I don't know," Cox said of the odd kicking combo. "I played soccer growing up. I started kicking with my right foot, but then I don't know. Ever since I started punting the football, it's always been with my left leg. I kick a scooter with my left. But if there's a ball on the ground, I kick it with my right. Basically everything else is with my right."
Before his first college punt attempt Saturday, Cox had a history punting the ball. A native of Lafayette, La., Cox was a two-sport star in football and basketball who didn't become a starting quarterback until his senior season when he threw for 3,405 yards and 48 touchdowns, leading his team to the state championship where he threw for a state-record single-game passing mark in the title appearance. But in addition to his quarterback play, Cox was the team's punter.
"Our punter was struggling, so they put me back there, so I punted every time," Cox said. "I think my average was, like, 42 yards, so I could punt it a little bit."
Not many of Cox's punts have been like the one he attempted last Saturday. With Nevada facing fourth-and-16 around midfield, the snap was skyrocketed over his head. Cox flashed back to an NFL punt from earlier in the week when Seattle Seahawks All-Pro Michael Dickson had his punt attempt blocked before chasing down the ball and punting it a second time on the same play while under duress.
"The one last Saturday was just called 'Pirate Punch,' so the QB punts it," Cox said. "He snapped it over my head, so I had to go back to my baseball days, go back there, pick it up and just try to make a play. I got a good roll. I knew right when it came off my foot, I didn't hit it too good because I was just trying to get it off. But I got a good roll. I actually saw the Seahawks punter Dixon, and that was going through my head. Just try to get it off and don't lose what would have been like 30 yards."
While Cox was only credited with a 20-yard punt, the ball traveled about 45 yards as he let fly with a rugby-style boot as a defender closed in on him. Cox typically hangs out with the punters during practice when he can to pick up tips. The team's starting punter, Julian Diaz, also is a lefty and has helped Cox improve his drops, which was always his biggest issue in high school.
"My main problem is the drop," said Cox, who dubbed himself the Wolf Pack's "emergency punter," putting himself around the fourth string. "My drop's usually messed up half the time. But if I can square it up with a good drop, I can hit it pretty good."
While the novelty of Cox being a lefty punter and righty in everything else is fun, his focus has been on playing quarterback. After nearly quitting football to focus on basketball in high school, Cox walked on at Louisiana Tech after his stellar senior season. He didn't get any playing time in two years with the Bulldogs before transferring to Garden City (Kan.) Community College, a program he learned about because it played in the same conference as Independence (Kan.) Community College, which was featured on the Netflix series “Last Chance U.”
After starting at the junior-college level in 2019, Cox got a text from an unknown number in January 2020. It was from Wolf Pack offensive coordinator Matt Mumme, whose team had lost a few quarterbacks and needed to add depth at the position. Mumme had been tipped off about Cox by a mutual friend, and Mumme offered him a scholarship on their initial phone call. Cox joined Nevada last season and was Strong's backup, completing just 1-of-2 passes for 10 yards.
He's received more playing time this season, connecting on his first college touchdown pass in Nevada's 49-10 rout of Idaho State in its home opener, that being a 43-yard bomb to Harry Ballard III. Cox led four series against New Mexico State, showing some elusiveness as well. Despite his big frame, Cox ripped off a 15-yard run for a first down. That athleticism is relatively new for Cox.
"In high school, I was probably the slowest on the team," Cox said. "It wasn't until I fully grew into my body, probably the end of my freshman year of college when I was at Louisiana Tech is when I could finally start running and it just kind of happened like that. It felt like I was out there in summer workouts and all of a sudden I was faster than a lot of the guys. Ever since then, I've been able to run. In JUCO is when I started really running in games and feeling like I could do it, and it's transferred over here a good bit."
Cox has completed 12-of-17 passes (70.6 percent) for 154 yards and a touchdown this season. His passer rating of 166.1 is in line with that of starter Carson Strong (160.8), albeit in a much smaller sample size against lesser competition. But after taking the first-string snaps in spring camp and the early part of fall camp with Strong out following knee surgery, Cox is more confident about his ability to play at the FBS level.
"I'm super comfy," Cox said. "I feel like those reps in spring, especially fall camp, I was getting most of them. That was very beneficial toward my confidence, especially just having the guys on the team having trust in me to know that I can go out there and be able to compete right there where Carson's at, so that was huge for me."
Cox is listed as a senior but technically still has a year eligibility remaining after this season due to his redshirt year at Louisiana Tech and last year at Nevada not counting due to COVID-19's impact. With Strong expected to be an early-entry candidate in the NFL draft after the 2021 campaign, Cox could be in line to serve as Nevada's starter in 2022. He's tried to soak up as much from Strong as possible the last two seasons.
"Mostly stuff in the film room," Cox said of what he's learned from Strong. "I've been working a lot on just getting in there and reading coverages because I haven't really known that much about coverages since I got here, and so he's helped me with that. On the field, when I see him in practice, I'll see him make some throws and it's, like, 'Yeah, I want to try to do that. I can do that.' So just seeing some of the stuff he does that I haven't really seen before because I haven't been around a lot of QBs who could throw it like him."
Cox said his first college touchdown pass earlier this season was meaningful given the jagged route he's taken to getting on the field as an FBS player. He's just hopeful there's more to come if he's thrust into action this season as he prepares for the fight to be Strong's heir apparent.
"That's my goal for next year," Cox said of becoming Nevada's starter. "Nothing's promised. I'm going to have to come out here and earn it again, but I'm definitely looking forward to leading the team next year."
Columnist Chris Murray provides insight on Northern Nevada sports. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter at @ByChrisMurray.