Hocking College field goal kicker Caden Cox kicked down barriers and won the nation’s hearts as he became the first collegiate player with Down syndrome to score in a game. Now, he’s on a mission to be a game-changer on and off the field.
As a child with Down syndrome, Caden’s parent’s fought to get him on a level playing field. When Caden’s mother, Mari, wanted Caden to attend the same schools as his brother, Zane, she was told Caden would never graduate high school or attend college. When Caden wanted to earn a black belt in Taekwondo alongside his family, he was told he couldn’t achieve that goal. When he wanted to follow in his father Kevin’s footsteps and play football, he was told he shouldn’t bet on it.
But, together, they tackled every “shouldn’t,” “couldn’t,” and “wouldn’t” that faced them.
Mari Cox enrolled Caden in York High School in Virginia, despite objections from the school administration. While Caden kept pace as a student in class, he couldn’t help but push himself as an athlete after the schooldays ended.
By the end of high school, he had earned a second-degree black belt, multiple Special Olympic medals, and eight Ohio medals in swimming. But Caden found his sweet spot on the gridiron.
Special teams runs deep in the Cox family. Caden’s father, brother, and uncle were each collegiate kickers. So, it was no surprise when Caden took a shine to it, and others couldn’t help but see it.
One day, as the York J.V. Falcons squad practiced, the coach noticed Caden kicking field goals. Impressed by his accuracy and worth ethic, he put Caden into the next game, where Caden made all seven of his kicks.
Caden was a kicker.
Caden’s high school career ended with a letterman’s jacket full of accomplishments; Marching band percussionist, multi-sport athlete, founder of the Inclusion Club, and even homecoming king. Silencing the critics, he earned his diploma and a spot on the roster of a college football team.
Caden’s dad, Kevin, was working as Director of Football Operations and was overjoyed to see his son join the squad. Every morning, Caden would wake up at 5 am and join the team for workouts and conditioning with one goal: getting game-ready.
On September 11, 2021, the showdown between Hocking College and Sussex College made history. Before the game, Kevin Cox warned the referees that a player with Down syndrome might make it into the game to kick. The referee asked if the other team knew, and Kevin ensured they didn’t.
He didn’t want special treatment for his son. He wanted inclusion.
In the third quarter, the Hocking Hawks scored a touchdown. As the kicking team took the field, there was a new player in the backfield.
Wearing number 21 to represent the number of chromosomes people with Down syndrome have, he displays his superpower right on his jersey.
“No one knew Caden was going in beside me, the holder, and the long snapper.”
This was the moment for which Caden had hoped, waited, and trained.
His parents watched on in anticipation, knowing the weight of this moment for their son as an individual, but also realizing the importance of this kick for all people with Down syndrome.
As concerned as Mari and Kevin were, they knew Caden was confident.
“Most people get nervous when everyone is watching. But, Caden has ice in his veins.” Kevin says proudly.
The snap was good, the hold was good, and the kick was… Good!
When he split the uprights, Caden became the first person with Down syndrome to not only play in an NCAA or NJCAA football game, but also the first person with Down syndrome to score a point in a game.
FROM GAME TIME TO GAME DAY
The historical moment made reverberations all over the country, starting with local media and working its way up to the national scene. Finally, ESPN picked up the story and sent a video crew to Nelsonville to document this player who changed the game. After running a special on Caden during their staple college football show, Game Day, Caden’s story broadcast to millions of Americans. He became an icon of inclusion, showing what people with Down syndrome are capable of when given the opportunity, and pursuing it with relentless determination.
Today, Caden’s signature #21 jersey is displayed at the Chick-Fil-A College Football Hall of Fame in Atlanta while he and his family travel the country to share the power of kicking down barriers.
When asked his advice for others with Down syndrome and big dreams, Caden says words he’s heard his family tell him from the classroom to the dojo and on the sidelines: “Go for it.”
Keep watching as Caden kicks down barriers by following him on Instagram.