Cox, the state's Mr. Football as a senior quarterback at Hewitt-Trussville High School last season, left the Auburn football team Saturday for "personal and family reasons." His father and Auburn coach Tommy Tuberville said they hoped he would return. Whether he will or not is anybody's guess.
Neither Cox nor his family nor Auburn is obligated in any way to say what his reasons for leaving were. Personal means just that. But here is what I know: He didn't leave for any of the absurd reasons floated on message boards or talk radio shows, and his departure should in no way be construed as a sign of some deep-seated problem in the Auburn football program. That the departure of a freshman who'd never played a game created such a firestorm says a lot about the fascination with college football in our state. Sometimes that fascination is a good thing. Sometimes it's not.
Brandon Cox is shown at pratice last week when he was held out of action due to headaches.
It's certainly not a good thing when you are an 18-year-old kid and you find your name in screaming headlines and find yourself the subject of endless speculation on Internet message boards and in clueless diatribe on talk radio shows. Cox was an outstanding high school quarterback. Maybe he could be an outstanding college quarterback. Maybe not. But that really isn't the question here.
My hope for Brandon Cox is that he deals with the issues that led him to leave and does whatever makes him happy. If playing football for Auburn will make him happy, I hope he returns. If playing somewhere else will make him happy, I hope he transfers. If not playing at all will make him happy, I hope he doesn't play. So many thousands would give almost anything to put on that jersey and run on to the field. Sometimes it is difficult for those people to understand a young man who decides he doesn't want that. No one who hasn't been through it or witnessed it first-hand can understand what it takes to play football at a Southeastern Conference school. It is a mental and physical challenge day after day, week after week and month after month.
"College football is tougher than high school football or pro football," Tuberville says. "You are getting a great education, but you are working for minimum wage, basically. Going to school is a job in itself. Going to school and playing football, they are carrying two jobs at one time."
In the mid-1980s, Auburn had a player who was projected as a high NFL draft choice going into his senior year. He left the team. When I sought him out for an interview, his explanation was simple. "I've been playing football since I was eight years old," he said. "I'm sick of it. I love Auburn and I love my teammates, but I don't want to play anymore. I don't want to play at Auburn next year and I don't want to play in the NFL."
In this Internet age, highly recruited players are heroes before they even arrive on campus. Their every move is scrutinized before they ever attend a college class. Having done my best to guide three children through their teen-age years, I can only imagine the difficulties that could come from that scrutiny. Some cope with it better than others. My gut feeling is that Brandon Cox will be back on the Auburn football team, but that feeling isn't based on any inside knowledge. Whatever he chooses to do, I hope he finds happiness.
The race is far from over, but sophomore Jason Campbell seems to be opening some distance between himself and Daniel Cobb in the race to be Auburn's starting quarterback.
Cobb had a rough day Sunday, the first day in full pads, throwing three interceptions. One was thrown right into the gut of defensive tackle Spencer Johnson, who trotted in for a touchdown. Campbell seems more poised and confident than he was a year ago. If Cobb doesn't make a move soon, it could be over even before Saturday's scrimmage.
Quentin Riggins, an All-SEC linebacker in the halcyon Auburn days of the late 1980s, smiled as he watched fights erupt during a goal-line scrimmage at the end of Sunday's practice. "That's not a bad thing," Riggins said. "The offense and defense can come together game week. Right now, you have to fight."
Riggins, a mild-mannered sort, said it was a regular part of practice in his day. "I played with Kurt Crain," he said. "You think Kurt was going to take anything from anybody? Or Edward Phillips? If you were challenged, you'd better not back down. If you did, then you had to deal with them when you got back to the huddle."
Freshman tailback Tre Smith appears to be everything he was reputed to be and will mount a serious challenge to Ronnie Brown for the No. 2 tailback job...He still has a lot to learn, but offensive tackle Marcus McNeill is the most imposing offensive linemen to show up at Auburn since Willie Anderson...The much-heralded group of freshman wide receivers has shown spectacular athletic ability, but dropped passes have been a problem...Look for Anthony Mix to get early playing time at tight end... How tough is fullback Brandon Johnson? He suffered a painful muscle strain Sunday afternoon and was back at it Monday morning...Senior Horace Willis, a junior college transfer last spring, is making a serious bid for playing time at cornerback.