UND Student-Athlete of the Month: Mat Cox

Olympia, Wash., native, and Fighting Hawks offensive lineman engineering two degrees in six years

Mat Cox

Mat Cox, who earns top grades in the classroom and is a leader on the football field, will graduate with a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering in May. By May 2019, he plans to earn his master’s degree in civil engineering from UND. Photo by Shawna Schill.

Mat Cox is a builder.

“I’ve always liked seeing how buildings and bridges are built,” said the civil engineering senior and offensive lineman for the Fighting Hawks football team.

He’s helped build a winning team on and off the field.

“My UND experience has been really great,” said Cox. “When I came here from Olympia, Wash., the professors and coaches helped me move in the right direction and to grow as a person, a student and as an athlete. I really like it here.”

Despite a season-ending knee injury last year after starting his first four games at right tackle, Cox has come back as an offensive lineman.

“My injury feels good now,” Cox said. “I tore my ACL and meniscus, which was a big roadblock. I worked really hard in PT – the physical therapists in the Hyslop are awesome. They push you. They still check in on me.”

In the game

Cox did extra practice and workouts, which put him back in the starting lineup.

He’s taken that can-do attitude to his academic career. His contributions – academic and athletic – helped UND win the Big Sky Conference Presidents’ Cup for the first time last year. Competition is stiff for the Cup, which recognizes success in both academics and athletics.

The Fighting Hawks took fifth in athletic standings, winning outright titles in volleyball and men’s basketball and finishing as co-champions in football and women’s basketball. UND is the first Big Sky school to win regular-season titles in those four sports.

So, what was the decisive goal in winning the Presidents’ Cup? Classroom performance. UND had the best academic progress rate (APR) rating for the fifth consecutive year since joining the Big Sky. They also finished third in team GPA, with a collective 3.31.

UND has led the conference for the last three years, with four teams earning NCAA awards for their multi-year academic progress rates, and has earned the recognition 17 times across eight sports since 2010.

Two degrees

Cox, who earns top grades, will graduate with a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering in May 2018. By May 2019, he plans to earn his master’s degree in civil engineering from UND.

“I’m taking part in a combined program that allows me to take classes for my master’s, while I’m an undergrad and eventually be a full-time master’s student next summer,” said Cox. “I hope to earn both degrees in six years.”

Most engineering students do an internship or co-op, but that was difficult for Cox because of football. Instead, he worked with Feng Xaio, assistant professor of civil engineering and did undergraduate research for him over two summers and during the spring semesters.

“It’s great – I get into the lab and get experience.” Cox added that he’s really happy with the civil engineering program.

“The professors are great,” he said. “When I talk to them and tell them I play football, they work with me every step of the way.  They want to see you excel and to succeed.”

So does the football staff.

“The offensive line coach lets me miss practice occasionally for engineering class,” Cox said. “He knows that I’ve made it this far in engineering and that I’ll work hard. That lets me take the classes I need to graduate.”

Time management

Cox said time management is key to balancing football and academics.

Practice, workouts and meetings take up more than 35 hours each week, not including games and traveling.

“I focus when working on my homework,” he said. “I sit down and get it done. I don’t have a lot of time, so I work on it when I have the chance.”

On a typical day, he gets home from practice around 6 p.m.

“I cook dinner, do dishes, then do homework. Two days a week, I have a 6:30 a.m. workout. After that, I go home and cook breakfast, then get to class by 9.” He squeezes in more homework during the day.

He spends his spare time – what there is of it – studying. And making his own meals.

“I’m a decent cook, and I’ve gotten better,” he said. “I make a lot of omelets. I can follow any recipe.”

He also enjoys going home to Olympia during breaks and is able to see his parents fairly often.

“I’m lucky, my parents come to a lot of games and come support me. It’s awesome.”

For now, Grand Forks is home.

“I really like it here. The people are super nice and I’ve made tons of friends within my degree, sports and the community,” Cox said. “It’s been an awesome experience; I wouldn’t trade it for anything.”