FARGO, N.D. (Valley News Live) -- The injury bug hit the Bison defense last year and it really reared it's head at linebacker.
Then freshman Jabril Cox was the only Bison linebacker to play in all 15 games last year.
He cleaned up in post-season honors and has picked up where he left off last year with the pre-season honors.
But he's got other things on his mind.
"I've taken a lot more things more serious this year," sophomore Jabril Cox. "Like weight lifting. I know getting bigger, just because watching film and seeing how other guys are, I just want to be like the best."
He'll have his work cut out for him this year.
"We need to challenge Jabril and move him inside some," North Dakota State head coach Chris Klieman said last week. "You know we have Levi [Jordheim] and Dan [Marlette] that I think are excellent football players, coming off pretty significant injuries. So we need to have some depth in there."
The eventual move to middle linebacker seems like a natural progression for Cox and it's one he takes a great deal of pride in making.
"I know that I have to raise the bar and step up my game," Cox said. "And you also have to have a sense of craziness to you and to playing the game, and you also have to have smarts. You just have to have to the total package to play linebacker."
"I know I have to mature faster and not do some of the things I did last year this year."
Cox has even more motivation to be his very best this year as he's setting an example for someone extra special.
His younger brother Jasir is joining him as a Bison linebacker.
"I know he's looking up to me. So whatever I do, he'll think that's ok," Cox said of us younger brother. "So if I do something wrong, he's going to think that's alright."
Incredibly close, Jabril says they never really had the chance to play together in high school because of injuries, making these next few years extra special for him and his entire family.
"Finally having the opportunity to play with him, it's just amazing. Having him be with me whenever he needs help he can call on me and I'll be there. I couldn't ask for nothing else."
Jabril Cox led the Bison last year with 75 tackles and 13 for loss.
Alongside Jabril Cox, Levi Jordheim and Dan Marlette, the Bison return Aaron Mercadel and Ross Kennelly at linebacker.
Chris Klieman said they also have moved Jaxon Brown from the safety position to linebacker. The junior is expected to help on that strong side when Jabril Cox is in that middle spot.