When Dean Cox first arrived at West Coast, he was so unfit that the only teammate he could beat in a two-kilometre time trial was bulky full-forward Scott Cummins.
How times have changed.
Cox has revolutionised the role of a ruckman during his glittering 14-year career.
The 32-year-old’s silky skills and excellent tap work have earned him nationwide plaudits, but it’s his ability to cover large expanses of ground for long periods that set him apart from most other ruckmen.
Cox will break Glen Jakovich’s club games record when he lines up for his 277th match in Saturday night’s clash with Geelong at Simonds Stadium.
Based on his current form and fitness, Cox appears destined to break the 300-game barrier.
The six-time All-Australian is keen to play on next season, but he’ll wait until later in the year before making a final decision.
Cox was an 87kg, 203cm beanpole when he first arrived at West Coast via the 2000 rookie draft.
And after the club’s coaching staff witnessed his poor endurance levels in the time trial, Cox was forced to bide his time early on.
“I was very raw,” Cox said.
“I was under no illusion that at the time I wasn’t good enough to play AFL footy.
“I had so many areas I still had to work on.”
With Michael Gardiner at the peak of his career, Cox was just happy to snare some game time as the ruck understudy in 2001.
It was a role Cox would assume for the next two years, and he briefly flirted with the idea of joining St Kilda in order to boost his playing opportunities.
But when Gardiner got struck down by injury in 2004, Cox was thrust into the role of No.1 ruckman.
It was a position he thrived in, helping West Coast achieve premiership success in 2006.
“It’s been an unbelievable journey,” Cox reflected.
“To think at the start that I’d eventually play the amount of games I have – there’s no way I would have thought that.”
But it wasn’t all smooth sailing.
The culture crisis that engulfed the club reached a boiling point at the end of 2007, culminating in the sacking of Cousins.
West Coast’s form dropped off dramatically, reaching an all-time low in 2010 when they collected their maiden wooden spoon.
Cox’s career was at the crossroads, with the big man’s influence dropping significantly as he battled groin issues.
But the West Australian bounced back to his best in 2011, winning his fifth All-Australian jumper as West Coast made a shock return to the finals.
Cox has also become West Coast’s ruck coach, and he’s eager to further his coaching credentials once his playing career is up.
But first, he wants to help lead the Eagles to more success.
At 3-0, the early signs are good under new coach Adam Simpson.
But the Eagles’ true test will come over the next month when they take on Geelong, Port Adelaide (home), Carlton (ES) and Fremantle.