GARLAND -- Mark Cox has been coaching football for 28 years.
"If you're going to stay in coaching, you better be an optimist," said Cox, the head coach at South Garland high school. "Sometimes what looks to be your toughest moments in coaching are your building moments."
His team had several building moments last year, his first with the Colonels, when they went 3-7. But they did build from there, going 6-4 in the regular season and making the playoffs.
But this season came with the biggest building moment of Coach Cox's life.
"You think, 'Oh, I can image what they feel like,'" said Cox's wife of 33 years, Lisa. "You cannot imagine."
Back in August, Mark Cox was diagnosed was colon cancer, just days before two-a-day practices were to begin.
"We were just getting ready for a new season," said quarterback Trey Porter. "It just sucked the air out the room. We didn't know what to say."
Cox had surgery and missed most of training camp and the first three games of the season -- the first three games he's ever missed.
"It's a lot easier to give a pep talk than it is to live a pep talk," Cox said. "And as coaches, we give it. But that's what this has done; it makes you take what you preach, and if you really believe it, you internalize it."
He's been back on the sideline since the fourth game of the season, but not at full strength. The bi-weekly chemotherapy saps him, but his players and coaches re-energize him.
"He loves the game of football, he loves being around us," said defensive tackle Charles Walker. "And with us helping him, plus his family, he has anyone to turn to if he's down or needs anything, or if he's down and needs to talk to somebody."
"The best medicine I get is being around our players and our coaches," Cox said. "That's kind of what I told them -- keep this thing going, because it's good medicine right now."
The longer the season goes, the longer coach Cox gets his medicine. And he got a big dose the first week of the playoffs, when South Garland came from behind to beat Rockwall-Heath.
"It's the reason he gets up every day, to go be with those kids," Lisa Cox said. "I think it's the best environment and I think it's a blessing that he is a high school football coach."
Cox is a former college quarterback who once threw six touchdowns in a game, and he's been a coach since 1981. A lifetime in sports has prepared him to fight the biggest battle of his life.
"It changes your outlook. Things that you used to think were problems, they're not problems, they're opportunities," Cox said. "So in that way, this has really -- it's kind of enriched me, I think it's enriched our players, and I think it's enriched our coaching staff."
"There are a lot of days, where as a player, you don't want to go in there and lift weights," said offensive coordinator Mikey Thompson. "You don't want to go out there and run, you don't want to go out and practice and hit each other for two-and-a-half hours, but you do it.
"You deal with your own personal adversity and that prepares you for dealing with other adversities in your life," Thompson continued.
"I tell our kids this all the time -- you'd rather live a life of meaning than a life of ease," Cox said. "And that's kinda how I feel about it."
That win for South Garland? It was coach Cox's first ever playoff win as a head coach.