LAKEWOOD RANCH, Fla. -- Mason Cox made a name for himself in the AFL this season, and he's aiming for bigger and better results in 2017.
The 25-year-old Collingwood big man acquitted himself well in his rookie AFL campaign, kicking 17 goals in 11 games for the Magpies. Cox ranks among the first Americans to play in the AFL, and at a height of 211 cm, he's the tallest player in the league history, just ahead of Fremantle's Aaron Sandilands.
Cox impressed in his debut at the annual Anzac Day clash against Essendon, kicking the first goal of the match in front of more than 85,000 fans. The former college basketball player from Oklahoma State also booted four goals in a later game against Brisbane.
ESPN Australia caught up with Cox for a Q&A session this past weekend at the USAFL national tournament in Florida. Here's what transpired:
How do you assess your debut AFL season? It was pretty good. In general, I think it was probably better than most people would expect. I'm pretty hard on myself, [but] I try to take the ups and downs together and just make the best from it. I'm definitely looking forward to next year and having a bit more of an impact and being a bit more consistent as far as games go. Toward the end of the season, I had a few injuries that split me out of the squad for a bit. Hopefully I'll be healthy the whole year and be able to give all I can to the team.
You battled some injuries during the season. How is your health? My health is pretty good. I had hip surgery at the end of the year, pretty much the day after we were done. I can't really do a ton of running on it for another five or six weeks. So I've been doing upper body [work]. For a guy who likes to go run and clear my mind, it's a bit frustrating. It's a bit sore at times, but I've just got to rest it until it heals completely. ... I [also] had shoulder surgery last year, and that's all healed up and feeling good, so hopefully by the time the season starts I'll be 100 percent again.
What have you been advised to work on this offseason? Really just stay in shape. Obviously kick the footy around as much I can, although I can't do a ton of it with the hip. Just get more volume into it at this point to be able to get through a whole game and not be tired and [show up] to preseason well. We have skinnies, where we have to be under a certain fat percentage on the body. So just keep in shape and make sure that's low, so that when we start training and going at it I'm ahead of the game.
Do you think you will play forward next year or more time in the ruck? Don't really know. Wherever the coaches want to put me, I'll do it. Brodie Grundy had a fantastic year. He's going to be a tough guy to knock out of the spot. I think I'll play both forward and ruck -- wherever the position is available and wherever they need me, I'll be more than happy to fill that role.
What do you think about Collingwood bringing in free agents Chris Mayne and Daniel Wells? I'm traveling and stuff, so you don't really even hear about it being in the States. Obviously, I'll meet them when I get back. But I'm kind of removed from it all being overseas. I don't really deal with that kind of stuff. I don't really know all the details or all the stats. I'll leave that to the guys who make the big bucks behind the scenes. I'm sure they're making the right decisions.
Do you think Collingwood can play finals next year? Yeah, of course. There's no reason we wouldn't. At this point, it's just getting wins and not getting a downfall to our season. Like, we've had a few games where we just kind of lost it. It's frustrating to see, and it's frustrating to be a part of when you're losing games. But at the end of the day, we're a team that beat some of the best teams in the league. We've got the talent. We've got the ability. It's just getting it all together and showing our best every game. ... We've shown plenty of promise this year. We've played some of the best teams and come out with wins, so if they can make it to finals and make the Grand Final, why not us?
What brings you to the USAFL nationals? I came over here at the last second. I found out my brother was playing here. I didn't tell anyone. I was going to surprise him, so I just kind of kept it under the rug. There are a lot of guys here who ran the combine when I first came into AFL, and it was great to see them again. Those guys had a big impact on where I'm at now, and it's great to catch up with them. Without those guys, I wouldn't be in the position I'm in.
What's your impression of the level of play here? It's pretty good. A lot of these guys had never heard of AFL or ever played it in their lives [until recently]. A lot of the teams are run by Australians who come over here and play the sport they love and try to start their own clubs. They're just passionate about their sport. ... They get a group of guys together and teach them the game and just kind of get this community together. These guys go out and train every week and teach them all the skills of this game that's absolutely unheard of to them. Then to have something like the nationals, where everyone gets together and enjoys the game, is cool.
Do you think footy has growth potential abroad? I think it's going to get a bit more international now. There are a lot more [foreign] players, Americans, Irishmen and Sudanese guys are coming over and playing AFL. So I think the more international people that come through, then it gets a bit more media, and it proves that people can do it. I think the more people that go over there and give it a crack and do well, the more media gets behind it, and you never know where it will go. I think the more opportunities that come up and the more people that do it, the bigger the sport will become overseas and in Australia.
Have any U.S. athletes approached you and asked about pursuing an AFL career? I've talked to a few through the AFL and just kind of talked to them about where I've been and what I've gone through, what I've learned, how tough it was, what to expect and things of that nature. Whenever the AFL gets in contact with them, I'm always happy to help, walk them through it and give them an idea of what to expect. I've been in the same position -- just trying to get your head around all of it. It's one big whirlwind.
How do you like living in Australia? Are you picking up the accent? I'm definitely picking up the accent. It's one of those things where if you talk with an American accent in Australia, everyone kind of asks you twice what you said. And you kind of get sick of repeating yourself, so you eventually just merge into it and give in. I love it over there. Melbourne is just crazy about footy, and it's tough to describe it until you get there with the whole experience. ... I'm actually trying to apply for citizenship there now and try to be a dual citizen of America and Australia. [If that goes through], whatever happens down the line, I'll have the option of staying there or coming back to the States.