Cox visits Big House with UMass

ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- For four seasons, Michael Cox left the Michigan locker room at the top of the Michigan Stadium tunnel, ran down the steep decline and waited to run in front of 110,000 people cheering fans.

He'd jump and touch the "Go Blue" banner and then, for the most part, sit idly for the majority of Michigan football games, run back up the tunnel, get dressed and go home.

He was a Michigan football player, even though he barely played.

Cox transferred to Massachusetts after last season and was immediately eligible under the NCAA's graduate transfer rule, and he now finds himself in a unique position as the Minutemen ready to face Michigan on Saturday. The running back will leave his locker room, run down the steep decline in the Michigan Stadium tunnel and run out onto that field again.

"Yeah, I've wondered what's going to happen when I come into the Big House," Cox said. "We'll see what happens. It'll definitely be weird being on the other team."

At Michigan, Cox had 19 career carries in 2009 and 2010, gaining 169 yards and scoring two touchdowns -- both against Delaware State. He spent most of his time on the bench or special teams.

Enter the opportunity at Massachusetts. In two games, Cox has 20 carries -- more than he had in three seasons at Michigan. While he has only 32 yards, he is UMass' leading rusher. And he has gone from a roster afterthought to an important cog.

"I'm glad to have him," UMass coach Charley Molnar said. "Physically, he is a big-league running back. He has size, he has power, he has speed. For whatever reason, things didn't quite work out for him at Michigan, who knows.

"All I know is this: He's the best running back I have on my football team right now."

He's also the most prepared for this environment.

From the minute Cox made the decision to transfer, both his old coaches at Michigan and new ones at UMass brought up this game. Unlike transfers during which there are hard feelings or things left unresolved, this was pretty amicable. Cox graduated in May, earning his undergraduate degree in four years.

His relationship with his teammates was strong enough that they still text him -- they too brought up his eventual Ann Arbor return soon after his decision -- and have been in contact with him often since his departure, especially Michigan receiver Roy Roundtree.

And when Cox received text messages from his old teammates through the past few days, there were some gentle jabs.

"There's a lot of trash talking," Cox said. "Like, 'You better bring your game, we're coming for you.' "

Cox knows it is all in fun. While the majority of Michigan players made available Monday spoke highly of the Dorchester, Mass., native, the sense was they weren't just platitudes. They always want to see him do well.

Well, almost always.

"He's always been a good friend of mine and I'm going to root for him every week except this one," Michigan tackle Taylor Lewan said. "I hope he's successful and hopefully our defense can contain him."

Considering the talent disparity -- UMass played its first FBS game less than three weeks ago -- Michigan should have success.

As he did during his time at Michigan, Cox will have friends in the stands. His parents and an aunt and uncle are planning to come.

And all at once, life for Michael Cox will be both similar and wholly different. He'll be playing and he'll have one last chance to show Michigan what he is capable of, albeit for another school.

"Yeah, definitely I want to go out there and do my best," Cox said. "Hopefully show everybody that I am a good player."