LAS VEGAS, Nev. — Young Dakota Cox has come to this land where a fake Eiffel Tower hovers over a clog of humanity, and a phony Venetian canal cuts through a casino.
It is preseason college football, a time when no snap has been taken and no defeat has humbled.
So Cox, who became a starter in just his fourth college game last year as a true freshman for the University of New Mexico, is filled with the optimism of youth.
“We’re going to get to the ball and hit,” the linebacker said. “They’re going to feel our presence on the field. We’re going to get to the point where all the teams look at us and be afraid to play against our defense. We’re going to have that toughness aspect. … We’re going to be heard. We want it to be known that we’re out there.”
His words came at the annual Mountain West Conference preseason media gathering, where the media picked the Lobos to finish fifth in the six-team Mountain Division.
His words came following a season in which the UNM defense allowed about 43 points and 517 yards of total offense a game.
And his feelings apparently are contagious. UNM offensive lineman LaMar Bratton, an all-MWC preseason selection, agrees with him.
“I see us as a sleeper,” Bratton said. “They make all these ratings, but they haven’t been at our practices every day. They haven’t seen the types of days our defense had. They don’t know the improvements that are coming.”
Bratton said he used to be able to call the defense’s blitzes easily during practices.
“But they’re definitely concealing it a lot better,” he said. “And the effort that they play with is amazing. It doesn’t seem like they’re worrying about making a mistake. They’re just out there to play hard and make big plays.”
Cox credits the intensity of new defensive coordinator Kevin Cosgrove.
“He goes by three letters – T, E, T,” Cox said. “Technique, effort and toughness. That’s what he lives by, and we take that to heart.”
Offensively, the Lobos return their triple option that produced about 33 points and 422 yards a game.
“They’re not going to be afraid to run it down your throat or go around the outside,” Cox said. “It’s always tough playing against it. It’s probably one of the toughest offenses we face all year. It’s such a ballet. That’s what (head coach Bob) Davie calls it, and it is the perfect analogy. It’s back and forth. No one knows where the ball is.”
Davie said of the 110 players on his roster, only nine players belong to what should be a “fourth or fifth year” class.
“We bottomed out last year with all the young guys,” Davie said. “Now we have a chance to start building momentum.
“We actually have some good young players who are going to be around for a while. We’ve still got some issues, but I think we can get this thing going.”
Cox is a believer. So is Bratton, who found himself quizzed about his affection for the “Game of Thrones” and told everyone who interviewed him about his love for New Mexico’s food.
“Flying under the radar is probably the best thing for us,” Bratton said.