For four years he’s mostly watched, waited.
He was a Parade All-American in high school, and he hasn’t lost a game he started since eighth grade.
But he’s only started once since arriving in Athens.
In 2005, as a redshirt freshman, he was the scout team MVP, watching as the Bulldogs won the SEC Championship.
In 2006, he watched as the most celebrated recruit in the program’s history stepped onto campus with a hero’s welcome and stepped right into the starting quarterback role.
Since then he’s been waiting for his turn. Patiently, quietly.
If Matt Stafford was the quarterback equivalent of a rock star, Joe Cox was the roadie tuning guitars before the show.
But this band of Bulldogs is looking to Cox now, and the fifth-year senior made it clear this week he’s ready to lead.
Coach Mark Richt made it equally as clear that he’s comfortable with his new QB.
“We lost Matthew Stafford, and that’s a big deal,” Richt said Wednesday in a teleconference. “But there’s a peace around the program with Joe here and his leadership and knowledge of the system.
“He’s been around, plus we have some young players here who are talented, too. It’s not a concern for me; I’ve seen enough of Joe to be confident.”
He may not have Stafford’s NFL-ready arm, but even with only one college start to his credit, Cox brings poise and stability to the position. He’s also got a passion that can’t be questioned.
That’s a big deal.
With a clear QB pecking order in place going into the spring, Cox has already established himself as the leader of the 2009 Bulldogs. And he’s earned the trust of his head coach, serving as Richt’s eyes and ears during offseason workouts.
“I talked with Joe Cox about the young guys, and his eyes lit up,” Richt said. “He thinks they have tremendous potential and will be fun to watch. He says they’ll be real fun to coach, too.”
And when the coach puts that kind of faith in a player, the rest of the team is sure to notice.
Cox’s unique perspective on the last four years of Georgia football also gives him an authority over his younger teammates — not only has he witnessed what it takes to win an SEC title, but in their eyes, the 22-year-old Cox is an old dude (this year’s incoming freshmen were in ninth grade back in 2005).
For his part, Cox is taking everything in stride. He doesn’t sound overwhelmed by the role he’s taking on, though he realizes the spotlight that comes with it. Even though the Bulldogs lost a good chunk of their superstar power in Stafford and Knowshon Moreno, the glare still shines on Georgia — ESPN announced earlier this week it will broadcast the annual G-Day game at the conclusion of spring practice on April 11.
So what does Cox hope fans see out of his Bulldogs?
“I hope people will see this as a bunch of guys that pull together as a true team,” Cox said.
That might be what it takes for the 2009 Bulldogs to sustain the kind of success they’ve gotten used to, and the kind of success the fan base demands. They may not have the kind of individual talent that can single-handedly take over a game, but from A.J. Green to Rennie Curran, there’s no shortage of skill in Athens.
And while the Bulldogs may have lost their flash, with Cox under center, don’t expect them to lose their fire.