SPARTANBURG, S.C. – After the Panthers offense drove 91 yards in 54 seconds to give Carolina a 25-24 lead in Friday's preseason opener, the Buffalo Bills had 54 seconds to answer.
"All they needed to do was get in field goal range," Carolina defensive end Rakim Cox said. "Before we went out, our D-line coach told us that it was on us to make something happen."
Cox put the responsibility of himself and responded, disrupting each of the game's final four snaps to seal the victory.
It's not the first time Cox has put it all on his immense shoulders.
Out of football since last August, Cox took out a loan to allow him to attend the inaugural NFL Veteran Combine in February. That decision helped him land a spot at a Chicago Bears' minicamp in early May. And when the Bears passed the Panthers pounced.
Carolina signed Cox after he excelled at the team's rookie minicamp days after the Chicago camp.
"I cherish it because of the sacrifices I had to make to get here. And if it's the Lord's will, everything will take care of itself and I won't have any problem paying that back," Cox said. "I had money saved from school, I took out a loan and had a credit card. I tried to budget wisely and spend carefully. I also got some help from family and friends.
"Food was probably the biggest thing seeing that I'm a big defensive end."
The stress of betting on himself so strongly was increased by the fact that instead of seeking out a paying job in the offseason, he made football his job. That's been his approach since spending time with two teams as an undrafted free agent out of Villanova last offseason.
"I was out from August until just a couple of months ago, so I completely focused on training, on getting bigger, faster and stronger," the 6-4, 260-pounder said. "A lot of my friends I played with in college and guys I played against, watching them on Sundays was tough. But it motivated me more than anything.
"When it's stripped away from you, it makes you work even harder. I never gave up."
The talk at training camp has been the battle for the second starting spot at defensive end across from Charles Johnson, with a quartet of returners – Mario Addison, Frank Alexander, Kony Ealy and Wes Horton – considered the candidates. While that quartet was quiet in the preseason opener, Cox made some noise late.
"I feel like I'm right there with everyone else," he said. "I'm working hard, doing all I can as far as run and pass defense. I'm trying to push myself every day.
"Competition is what the NFL is all about – this is a league of the best of the best. It's not easy. I'm just fighting."
And Cox doesn't plan to let up anytime soon. He can't afford to – literally.
"I'm so motivated and confident that I can't think that way," Cox said when asked if he feared for his financial fate if football doesn't work out. "I know what I'm capable of and that I can bring something to the table. If I do that well enough, I know everything else will take care of itself.
"Football is something I love to do. As long as I'm young and healthy, I will pursue it. I plan to keep doing it until I can't play at a high level anymore."