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Kristin Murphy, Deseret News
Juan Diego linebacker Dakota Cox dives for a loose ball in a game against Skyline earlier this month.

DRAPER — Heading into last weekend's game at Juan Diego, Granger running back Tani Lehauli had been virtually unstoppable this season, averaging 236 rushing yards per game and an amazing 13.1 yards per carry.

Last weekend, though, he ran into a defense that could finally match him.

You'd expect that from a group with two future Division I linebackers roaming the field.

Led by middle linebacker Dakota Cox and outside linebacker Walter Kauha'aha'a, Juan Diego did a great job corralling Lehauli last Friday, limiting the state's leading rusher to 144 yards and one touchdown on 23 carries in a 49-7 rout.

"Both those kids were instrumental in stopping the Granger running back. They got to him all the time, really held him in check when other teams couldn't do that," said Juan Diego coach John Colosimo. "It looked like he'd be breaking it open and then you'd see Dakota and Walter come out of nowhere and make a tackle on him."

Cox, the University of Cincinnati verbal commit, finished with 12 total tackles against Granger while Kauha'aha'a, a Utah State commit, added eight.

Led by the outstanding duo, who both possess great speed, Juan Diego has one of the state's elite 3A defenses this season and is ranked No. 2 in the latest 3A poll behind defending state champion Hurricane.

Both agree that playing alongside one another is a big part of their success.

"Makes me feel real comfortable having him beside. It's always nice to have somebody you know that is capable to do what you can do in a way," said Kauha'aha'a.

"We love to play hard and love to hit to people. It's fun to have that guy next to you that wants to do the same thing and shut people down," said Cox.

Considering the pedigree of both Cox and Kauha'aha'a, it's no wonder they're enjoying so much success.

Cox's father, Tom Cox, was a starting center for the University of Southern California back in 1985. Kauha'aha'a's father, Chad, played for the University of Utah from 1993 to 1996 and was a second-team all-WAC defensive lineman in 1996. He's currently an assistant coach for the Utes.

Colosimo said there's no disputing the two linebackers are blessed athletically, but said their work ethic is tremendous and that's a big part of why they'll be playing at the next level.

Cox's father is from Xenia, Ohio, and Dakota Cox said he always dreamed of following in his father's footsteps and playing college football out of state. With plenty of family and friends in the Ohio and Kentucky area, he said signing with Cincinnati was a no-brainer.

"Having family back there really helps," said Cox. "I have several of them already telling me they're going to be buying season tickets."

Cox, who's been a three-year starter for Juan Diego, has 50 total tackles this year, including five tackles for loss.

Despite being one of the leading tacklers in 3A, and someone who definitely has the athleticism to make up for missed assignments or tackles by his teammates, Cox doesn't get too wrapped up in his own success and is focused on team goals. Colosimo said that's a big part of why he's such a great team leader.

This is Kauha'aha'a's first season at Juan Diego. He played his freshman and sophomore years at Logan High while his father was an assistant coach at Utah State. After his dad took a job at the University of Utah, Kauha'aha'a ended up living with family in Idaho his junior year and played high school football at Rocky Mountain High.

This season at Juan Diego, though, he feels more comfortable than he's felt in a while.

"I've got my parents here to support me, and all these coaches that support me as well," said Kauha'aha'a, who has 31 total tackles this year.

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Even though his dad now coaches at the U., Kauha'aha'a said his heart never left Logan, which is why he said committing to the Aggies was never in doubt.

Earlier this season, as Juan Diego's offense tried to find its own identity, the defense was called upon a lot to get stops and keep the Soaring Eagle in the games. Now that the offense is catching up to the defense, as evidenced by its 49-point outburst against Granger, Juan Diego will be a scary team moving forward.

"We always like to say offense wins games and defense wins championships. That's something we live on. Defense is definitely what Juan Diego football is," said Cox.

email: jedward@desnews.com