Hocking College athlete with Down’s syndrome revisits stereotypes

NELSONVILLE – Caden Cox wants to kick Ryan Day.

Even for the most enterprising soccer stars who participate in a college program, it’s hard to imagine achieving the pinnacle of Big Ten athletics at a school like Ohio State University.

Even harder if you’re a backup kicker for the Hocking College football team, the only two-year college in Ohio, Indiana, or Michigan to feature football, to imagine a ball you threw through the “shoe” goal posts.

Hocking College kicker Caden Cox unloads practice balls at Nelsonville-York High School.  Cox, believed to be the only player with Down's syndrome in college history to score a point in a college football game, recently signed a NIL deal with Nelsonville-based Rocky Boots.

But for Caden Cox, a 22-year-old student-athlete with Down syndrome, becoming a Buckeye isn’t a throwaway pipe dream.

It’s just the next goal on a list of many.

An extra chromosome has never stopped Caden from pursuing his passion, whether it’s recording extra points in two games this season – he’s the first student-athlete with Down’s syndrome to score in NCAA history. or the National Junior College Athletic Association, depending on the two organizations – achieve TikTok stardom or sign a Name, Image, and Likeness (NIL) contract with local shoe maker, Rocky Boots.

Although the NCAA and NJCAA do not take into account the disabilities of student-athletes, a spokesperson has said, anecdotally, that there is no evidence to suggest that Caden is not the first.

In recent practice, after a downpour passed through the humidity of an unusually warm October evening for the season, Caden kicked a waterlogged ball that ended up nailing an offensive lineman.

His fists immediately clenched.

“Come on Caden, you know if you don’t get this next one you won’t be able to kick on Saturday,” his father and assistant football coach Kevin Cox warned from the sideline.

It’s a team rule that applies to Caden and the other two Hawks kickers each of whom must score in practice in order to be eligible to play the coming weekend.

In the second shot, Caden threw the ball into the air and passed the goal posts.

The kick was good.

“Caden is not afraid,” said head coach Ted Egger. “And he is not treated any differently from the other children in our program.”

Hocking College kicker Caden Cox, center, and starting Izrah Aekins, center right, watch a practice kick go through the uprights during practice.

“I don’t have a reservation”: a legacy of family support

Around 6 p.m. any day of the week, you can find Caden and Kevin Cox exchanging the kind of excited smiles that those familiar with the Speedway gas station sugar rush are all too familiar with.

“It’s tradition,” explained Elder Cox.

Strawberry melon and Pepsi ice cubes have only strengthened the bond between Caden and Kevin, a devoted father at Hocking College – he is the director of the school’s student center and football operations, and more importantly, from his family.

But the duo share more than brain freezes and soccer.

Kevin Cox helps his son, Hocking College kicker Caden Cox, with the lid of his drink before the pair head to football practice.  It's a tradition for the two to stop and have a frozen drink at the nearby Speedway before practice.

Kevin and Caden’s mother, Mari, have stood up for their son throughout his life, regardless of the doubts others have cast on them and Caden’s disability.

Born in Murphysboro, Tennessee, Caden and his older brother, Zane, attended elementary school down the street from their home. But when Caden was about to enter kindergarten, school officials pressured his parents to send Caden to a school for children with special needs.

Husband held on and went to the local school.

“They told me that he would probably never get a traditional high school diploma and that he would never go to college,” she said. “I had tears in my eyes, my heart sank and I was like, ‘Do I need to take this?'”

She did not do it.

The family owned a martial arts studio in Tennessee and the still athletic Caden was first exposed to taekwondo there – he now has a second degree black belt in the sport. When the family moved to northwest Ohio, Caden became an eight-time Special Olympics Gold Medalist in Swimming for the State in Grades 8-10.

But it was Zane who really inspired Caden to play high school football.

They come from a family of kickers. Zane kicked in college, so did Kevin. One of his uncles was an All-American punter at Virginia Tech.

“Zane treats him like an ordinary little brother: take the tar off him, yell at him, love him anyway,” Kevin said.

While Kevin swore he would never train his sons, when the time came for Caden to consider college, it made sense to come to Hocking College, where Kevin already had a job and Mari landed one in. as director of the massage therapy program.

“I don’t have a single reservation to send him out on the pitch,” said Kevin, standing in the end zone before practice began. “I think he could one day step on the shoe and make history. He continues to overtake.”


Caden is a natural entertainer.

Inside Rocky Boots, a longtime Southeastern Ohio establishment based in Nelsonville, Caden donned a pair of shiny black work boots to model before recording a TikTok, on his account @kickinitwithcaden , where he captivates more than 300,000 followers with his dance movements.

Hocking College kicker Caden Cox dances to K-Camp song "Lottery" for his TikTok at Rocky Boots.

“Do you need help with those?” Mari asked his son, pointing to the boots.

Caden waved his mother away and Mari rolled his eyes.

“I didn’t want to get down anyway,” she said.

Mark Dean, Managing Director and Vice President of Rocky Brands, came up with the idea of ​​signing a NIL contract with Caden after meeting Kevin at Hocking College Student Center this summer.

The arrangement made Caden the brand ambassador of the store – he releases at least two TikToks with Rocky gear twice a month – and gives Rocky the opportunity to support Caden’s mission to accept and include all people with disabilities.

Customers can get 21% off their purchase from Rocky using Caden’s code, KWCC21, and he receives 10% of all sales from those purchases in addition to his contract, as well as free Rocky merchandise.

Between coat racks full of camouflage and immaculate work boots, the dance is second nature to Caden, who does the Renegade, a dance that takes up the song “Lottery” by the Atlanta rapper K-Camp, while Mari films the precision movements of his son.

Part of his social media phenomenon is tagging every post with the hashtag #wherescadencox, referring to the 22-year-old’s versatile entertainment talents – he filmed dances on the diving board at Hocking College student center and inspired a crowd of strangers to join him dancing in front of a Tennessee barbecue.

In a quiet moment inside Rocky Boots, Caden smiled as he craned his neck to listen to the song playing over the store’s speakers.

“Do you guys hear that?” He asked as the familiar notes of a Journey classic roamed the store.

“You see her in a smoky room!” he sang. “The smell of wine and cheap perfume!”

Reunion on the horizon

At Hocking College, Caden is studying for an associate’s degree in Therapeutic Performing Arts and Assistive Animal Studies. Between soccer practice and school, he learned to play the guitar and worked as a student employee at the student center, often helping the women’s volleyball team.

But the most important thing he’s thinking about right now?

October 29-31: Reunion weekend.

On October 30, the Hawks (4-2) will host the College of DuPage at 1 p.m. at Boston Field, where Hocking shares land with Nelsonville-York High School, down the road from the college.

Caden has been appointed to the reunion tribunal and to win he must solicit donations for the Hocking Student Foundation – every penny counts as one vote. He is competitive and self-motivated: he maintained a 4.0 GPA in college, outdo himself in music, drama, and sports, and is devoted to animals as well.

He adores his dog, Bosa, named after Nick Bosa, a former Ohio State defensive lineman and current San Francisco 49er defensive lineman.

“Next week I’ll be the team captain for the home game,” Caden said. “It makes me feel pretty cool.”

His teammate Jeric Randle jokes with Caden Cox. "You have to help me get one of these offers (Name, Image, Likeness), Caden!" Randle then says the pair are chatting between training drills.

His teammates are 100% behind Caden, whether it’s carrying him off the field to celebrate after scoring an extra point against Sussex County Community College in their home opener, or fooling around during training between games.

“He’s always got a good attitude,” kicker Jeri Velasquez said. “Her positive mood makes you smile, for real.”

Caden’s success is a shrill cry from the first warnings Kevin and Mari received from medical professionals to consider not having Caden when pregnancy tests revealed their second child had Down syndrome.

“You have this kid that people were even discouraging you having, and he’s here doing what he’s doing… it’s pretty amazing,” Kevin said. “He is who he is now because we haven’t let him down. He’s going to do whatever he wants.”

His teammate Kalos Ferrier, left, chats with Caden Cox before training.

Like most freshmen, Caden has no idea what’s going to happen after school. Maybe he will give powerlifting a try – his max bench press is 225 pounds – but he’s engaged in football right now.

“I want to kick for Ryan Day,” Caden said. He hopes the number 21 he wears for the Hocking College Hawks, a nod to his extra chromosome, Down’s syndrome, can one day beautify Ohio Stadium.

But short-term goals are also important.

“So please vote for me to come home,” he added, smiling determinedly.

Hocking College kicker Caden Cox laughs during practice.

Céilí Doyle is a member of the Report for America corps and covers rural Ohio issues for The Dispatch. Your matching donation to our RFA grant helps keep writing stories like this one. Please consider making a tax deductible donation at https://bit.ly/3fNsGaZ.

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