NIK COX has gone from the 'Big Dog' to the big riser of this year's NAB AFL Draft.
The buzz player of this season's crop, Cox's stocks are trending further and further in the right direction among clubs with each passing day. With just a few more remaining until draft night on December 9, he now looks a likely top-12 pick.
But just a few months ago, he was also the buzz player of Carlton's recruiting team. Having readied himself for the now-customary Zoom meetings with AFL clubs, on this occasion with the Blues, Cox thought he had prepared as well as he could have.
The only thing he forgot? To change his Zoom username from a catch-up with his mates the night before.
"My name was still 'Big Dog'," Cox laughed.
"It was so embarrassing. I had David Teague calling me 'Big Dog' the whole interview and taking the mickey out of me.
"It was pretty funny afterwards. Lucky it wasn't something worse, I don't think 'Big Dog' is a bad thing. Hopefully it'll be something they'll remember me by."
It was the most minor of hiccups in an otherwise flawless draft process for the mature and driven Cox, who at 200cm is one of this season's most versatile and thoroughly intriguing young prospects.
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The Northern Knights hopeful has the size, the leap and the marking ability of a key-position player and demonstrated those attributes at either end of the field throughout his bottom-age NAB League season in 2019.
But he also possesses the elite athleticism of someone far nimbler. He completed the 2km time trial in just 6.03 minutes at last month's Vic Metro NAB AFL Combine testing, the fourth-best time in the field, while he ran the 20m sprint in an impressive 2.95 seconds.
Champion Data notes he averaged 13 disposals, 2.3 intercept marks and five intercept possessions in four games as a key defender last year. He then averaged 12 disposals, six marks, five score involvements and kicked nine goals from six matches as a key forward.
Few players achieved such exciting numbers in two completely different positions and clubs are subsequently split on where he will start his career in the AFL. Most, particularly at the top end of the draft, think it could be in attack.
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So, where does he see himself at the next level?
"I think I'm a centre half-back," Cox said.
"It's a position where I think I can be most damaging. But, to be honest, I haven't spent a whole lot of time learning the craft of a forward player. I think I'd be able to play in that position too and be quite damaging there.
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"I really understand how to play the role of a defender and I think with my assets and my intercept marking, being able to kick on both sides, I think I could be pretty damaging coming off half-back and setting things up.
"You look at players like Darcy Moore, Mark Blicavs and Harris Andrews, who have such a massive impact on the game and they're so athletic and tall.
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"But to be able to play any position, it can be quite damaging. Clubs will prepare for you, so if you're able to change things around and flick the switch when something's not working it can actually turn the game and be pretty important."
When the NAB League season was cancelled earlier this year, Cox turned to his father Darryl for some timely advice. An eight-year player himself with Fitzroy, Melbourne and the Brisbane Bears throughout the 1980s, he reminded his son there was still an opportunity to grow amid the uncertainty.
And grow he did. Cox put on eight kilograms of muscle in the gym, completed running sessions three times per week to ensure his bigger frame didn't hinder his endurance, and ensured his precise foot skills on either side of his body never wavered throughout the entire lockdown period.
The results of his training program are clear to see, with interest among AFL clubs subsequently gathering momentum at a rapid rate in the days nearing the draft.
Essendon will seriously consider calling his name with one of its three top-10 selections (picks No.6, 7 and 8), while Greater Western Sydney (picks No.10 and 13) and Fremantle (pick No.12) are also in the mix to land the talented youngster.
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Collingwood (picks No.14 and 16) is also keen, but is resigned to the fact it will need to move higher up the order to stand any chance of being in contention for Cox.
According to Cox himself, the influence of his father has been pivotal in the improvement that is now seeing him shoot up draft boards across the competition.
"He's been massive in my development, not just in this year but throughout my whole life," Cox said.
"He's obviously got a pretty good knowledge of footy. He's been coached by some of the best like Ron Barassi and Robert Walls and he's played with some incredible people too.
"He knows all of the little things that can help, whether it's just body work in the contest or ways to keep yourself motivated. He also knows the mistakes he's made, so he gives me advice on how to avoid things that can stunt your growth.
"He's been such a good supporter for me and he's been good in helping me avoid any sticky situations. He's provided me with the perfect pathway to where I am now."
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Advice on footy isn't the only knowledge Cox's old man has passed down to his talented young son. His music tastes, and a few of his pre-game pump-up tunes, are also inspired by his parents.
Throughout the gruelling months of Victoria's strict lockdown measures in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, Cox – who graduated from high school last year – turned his attentions to music and, in particular, his new vinyl obsession.
"I've got a pretty wide collection," Cox said.
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"I've got Dark Side of the Moon on at the moment and a lot of David Bowie stuff. I also love 'The Boss', Bruce Springsteen. I like my older stuff. I'm heavily influenced by my mother and my father and all of their years of blasting the music."
But with lockdown nearing its end and with the draft on the horizon, Cox is now ready to have his year of hard work rewarded. But it won't just be him enjoying the moment when it ultimately arrives.
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"It would mean everything to get drafted," Cox said.
"It's what I've been aspiring towards since I can first remember picking up a footy. And it's as much Mum and Dad's dream as it is mine, because they've been there every step of the way.
"It would be a good reward for the years and years of hard work and running. There have been lots of tough times, ups and downs, but it would all be worth it if I get drafted."