Even if Ill, Cox's Day Arrives

STILLWATER, OK – For four seasons, Joe Cox was motivated by the possibility that next year would be his year. For four seasons, he waited.

Dean Legge's News on Joe Cox

Now that the job of starting quarterback is finally his, Cox is content with the notion that there won't be any more next years. This season will be his last on the football field as a player, and he's on a mission to leave on top.

"I don't have any aspirations to play another year after this," said Cox, the fifth-year senior who will make just his second career start today against Oklahoma State. "I don't want to go somewhere and train and have everybody knock me about my size all over again. I've enjoyed football all the way up to this point. I still love football. But I want to put everything I have into one year – make it a fun year, enjoy it, and be able to walk out happy about what I've done with my chance."

Making the most of his opportunity doesn't simply mean posting a few gaudy stats for fans to remember him by, then moving on to the next phase in his career.

For three seasons, Cox waited his turn behind Matthew Stafford, but that was never the hardest part. It was falling short of the team's goals that killed him, and that's what he hopes he can rectify in his final year with the Bulldogs.

Joe Cox missed Thursday's practice and was held back from the team's plane to Oklahoma on Friday due to "flu-like" symptoms, according to the school.

Georgia sports information director Claude Felton said that Cox was feeling better as of Friday afternoon and the quarterback was expected to join the team in Stillwater Friday evening.

Georgia head coach Mark Richt said last week that the team was taking strict precautions to avoid a flu outbreak, particularly in the wake of the numerous cases of the H1N1 flu virus. Numerous players were quarantined during the summer, Richt said, after exhibiting symptoms, and linebacker Marcus Dowtin was kept separated from the rest of the team during the preseason after coming down with a severe case of strep throat.

While Cox is expected to still get the start against Oklahoma State, sophomore Logan Gray could see action as well.

"I still have a lot of things I want to accomplish," Cox said. "I want to win an SEC championship really bad. And whatever comes after that is enough for me."

It's a simple enough plan: Ride the bench for four years only to get one last shot at glory, then lead his team to an SEC title. The story might seem a bit unbelievable if Georgia fans hadn't witnessed it once already.

Like Cox, D.J. Shockley was a career backup for Mark Richt's Bulldogs, but when David Greene graduated after the 2004 season, he was handed the reigns to the offense for one last run. The result was an SEC East title, a win over LSU in the conference title game and a trip to the Sugar Bowl.

Cox was a freshman on that team, and he saw firsthand what was possible. It's part of what kept him going all these years on the bench, and he's stayed in touch with Shockley along the way for advice.

Now that the starting job belongs to Cox, Shockley has chimed in with some more words of wisdom on what it takes to make the transition a success.

"The biggest thing is just the mental aspect of being thrown into that situation -- the whole, everything's going to happen right now, and you only have this one year," Shockley said. "That's all you get. And that's the biggest part of it. Once you get over, OK, I'm not going to force everything into this one year, I'm just going to go out and play and let things happen, then you're a lot further along."

When it comes to being prepared for this moment, Cox didn't need much advice. He's not trying to squeeze a career into this one season, but he is trying to get the most out of Georgia's potential in the time he has left.

So from the moment he took over the job as starting quarterback in January, Cox has been the vocal leader of the team. He organized offseason workouts. He helped get the new freshmen ready to play. He worked with the backup quarterbacks to help them polish their skills. He's been the foundation of the Bulldogs' preparations for the past eight months.

"He's waited for this opportunity knowing it may never come and has been a team guy all the way," Richt said. "So because of that, when he says something, it's meaningful."

If Cox's concern about playing at the next level stems from a desire to avoid a new round of criticism by the armchair scouts, he hasn't let it bother him this season.

No, he's not Stafford when it comes to arm strength or body type. But for what he might lack in physique, he has more than made up for in vocal leadership – a skill that Georgia was sorely lacking at times last season.

"He wasn't afraid to say this is what we need to do to be successful," Richt said. "I don't know how it's going to translate out on the field, but he's done as fine a job of getting everybody ready to go as anybody since we've been at Georgia."

After all, Cox has had plenty of time to prepare for the role, and he's not going to let anyone sidetrack him from the goals he has established.

In the days leading up to his first start, Shockley said he couldn't sleep. Cox has had a bit easier time of it.

Maybe it was the lone career start Cox earned in 2006, but the quarterback said he hasn't thought much about that game this preseason.

Maybe it's just his fiery nature. Cox is always excited, so a bit more inspiration isn't enough to throw him off his usual routine.

Or maybe he's just spent enough time preparing for this moment that his confidence can't be shaken.

"He's been fired up ever since he knew he was going to get an opportunity after Matthew left, so there's no changes now," wide receiver Tavarres King said. "He handled the situation better than I think anyone could have handled it and now it's his time to shine."

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