Boston Chapter Teen Alum Plays for Giants!

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EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — How do you become an N.F.L. draft pick?

Consider the path taken by Michael Cox, a running back drafted by the Giants in the seventh round this year.

First, he was a nationally known junior hockey star from the Dorchester section of Boston. But when he tried out for his high school football team as a sophomore, they gave him a uniform and then never played him.

Next, he all but gave up elite hockey because he wanted to try other sports. Almost by accident, he ended up at a Connecticut prep school where, even though he had never played a down of organized football, he blossomed into a top rusher. Considered a top football prospect, he chose Michigan among several big-time suitors. For the second time in his athletic career, he was oddly banished to the bench, averaging about six carries a year.

After three seasons, he graduated early from Michigan and was granted a special dispensation to use his final year of N.C.A.A. eligibility at Massachusetts, which last year happened to field one of the worst teams in major college football. UMass was 1-11 and lost six games by more than 35 points.

And yet, despite his obscure and uneven football pedigree, the Giants, with their last pick of the 2013 draft, chose Cox, someone they had showed almost no interest in during the weeks leading to the draft.

“Not exactly the usual way to get here,” Cox said with a smile, sitting alongside the Giants training camp practice fields last week. “My whole life seems to be like that. But hey, I’m here.”

He is not a bystander to the training camp proceedings, either. Giants Coach Tom Coughlin noted after Friday’s practice that Cox was competing for the third running back spot, and the coach has been repeatedly saying he might use three backs in the offense this season.

“He’s done some nice things,” Coughlin said of Cox, who has also been used on punt- and kickoff-return teams.

Cox remains one of the most anonymous players on the roster, suiting up every day to await the next unpredictable turn in his life.

“It’s not been standard stuff, I guess,” he said. “But I’ve done the best with what’s come my way.”

Like a lot of boys growing in the Boston area, Cox gravitated toward hockey. He was a good-enough goal-scorer to be written up in Sports Illustrated for Kids, and he played on a top junior hockey team.

“But they wanted me to commit to playing year-round hockey,” Cox said. “And I love other sports too much.”

Cox, who is 6 feet and 220 pounds, would wrestle and run track, but football was relatively foreign to him.

“Other than touch football,” he said.

When he made his high school team, they tried him at linebacker in practice.

“But I never played,” Cox said.

The father of one of his friends was Frank Driscoll, whose brother, Kevin, was the football coach at Avon Old Farms, one of the nation’s top academic and athletic prep schools. Kevin Driscoll was a Dorchester native.

“My brother called me and said, ‘This kid is a spectacular athlete; you should talk to him,’ ” Kevin Driscoll said Friday. “I trusted my brother.”

Soon Cox was on his way to the old-world campus of Avon Old Farms in central Connecticut.

“There was a little culture shock,” Cox said. “It was awfully quiet up there. No sirens at night.”

Driscoll knew his new player had little experience at football.

“But once he got on the field, it didn’t matter,” Driscoll said. “When you see talent, it’s obvious. He was special.”

Playing on a team with Khaseem Greene, a linebacker who was the Chicago Bears’ fourth-round draft pick this year, Cox rushed for more than 1,000 yards and 16 touchdowns. He committed to Michigan early, choosing the Wolverines over Boston College, Duke and Connecticut.

“I told him it was the wrong place for him,” Driscoll said. “He was going to the wrong offensive system. Mike is a pro-style back. That’s not what they were doing.”

After a redshirt freshman year, Cox had 13 carries for 113 yards as a sophomore at Michigan, 6 carries for 56 yards as a junior and no rushing attempts as a senior.

“Every year, things looked good for me in preseason,” Cox said. “But it never worked out. There was a coaching change. I played on special teams. By my last year, the head coach was agreeing that I should transfer.”

Cox knew that UMass in 2012 was moving up to major college football from a lower tier, but he thought it was a chance to play closer to home. He started studying for his master’s degree in education. For the often overmatched Minutemen, he had 198 carries for 715 yards. In a 63-13 loss at Michigan, he ran for 76 yards on 18 carries.

He performed well at the N.F.L. combine and suddenly became something of a late-round sleeper pick. Several teams, but not the Giants, told him on draft night that they might take him.

“I had a party at my parents’ house, and that night teams were calling to say, ‘We’re going to draft you in the next round,’ ” Cox said last week. “But then they wouldn’t pick me. After the sixth round ended, I didn’t think I’d go at all.

“I was already making plans to sign as an undrafted free agent somewhere. I was figuring that I would just have to go at it another way. And then out of the blue, the Giants called. As I’m talking on the phone, people in the other room saw my name on TV and started cheering.”

Cox’s uncommon journey from youth hockey star to N.F.L. draft pick — with some atypical detours along the way — was complete.

“I don’t have any regrets,” he said with a wide grin. “You learn that it doesn’t always go as planned, but you can always try to make the best of it.”