This came a week after Mississippi State's star defensive tackle made Southeastern Conference honor rolls. He was tabbed first-team All-SEC in the media poll, and second-team by league coaches. Yes, Cox had been wondering if he might meet the national-level goal sometimes soon, as he admitted to asking p.r. director Joe Galbraith for updates.
No wonder Cox was as relieved at the good word, and another goal off the college checklist. "Yeah, there it goes!" he grinned again. And here goes Mississippi State's first true defensive lineman to earn any sort of all-American listing since Nate Williams was third-team by the Football News back in 1991. Cox was also up against a whole lot of direct competition from within his own conference, a league in many ways dominated by top interior linemen.
For that matter, he had to edge out his true-junior classmate and cohort Josh Boyd for both honors and statistics. Cox finished his eleven game regular season (he sat out the opener at Memphis) with 49 total tackles, and team-best tallies in both stops for losses (12.5) and sacks (4.0). Boyd played all twelve games and ended up with 50 tackles, though trailing his partner in the other categories with 7.0 TFLs and 3.5 sacks.
While Boyd had not gotten the word yet, "Josh is going to congratulate me," forecast Cox. "I mean, that's my boy and we work together no matter what. It's just hard work. Going out on the field and giving everything I've got."
Cox made MSU history during the regular season by being named three consecutive games (over four weeks) the SEC's Defensive Lineman of the Week. And he scored a fourth such honor for his winning work in the 31-3 rout of Ole Miss in the Battle for the Golden Egg.
The ironic angle to this latest recognition is that it comes from a publication aimed at professional football. Cox is expected to be closely watching his status with NFL talent scouts and weighing whether to turn pro after just three college seasons. He and Boyd have both played and started since their 2009 true freshman season together.
"But right now I'm not worried about it," Cox insisted. "I'm still getting prepared for this game. I've got another game to play before I even think about it." Otherwise, he added later, "I'm not going to elaborate on that" as far as the chances of his leaving Mississippi State before a senior season.
What Cox was happy to talk about is how Bulldog bowl camp is proceeding. This was the third day of practicing for Mississippi State's December 30 date with Wake Forest in the Music City Bowl, and unlike Saturday the starters had a lot more work to do. Instead of observing younger or backups in action, Cox and first-teamers were going through both unit drills and squad-on-squad competitions as if it were a game practice.
Cox did not mind. If anything, he liked the chance to get down to serious work again. Even an old Dog, or an All-American, needs to brush up on some basics at times, and bowl camp is the ideal opportunity as Cox sees it.
"I get a whole lot out of it individually, just working on it. You can always get better at your technique, you can always do those little things right."
At the same time Cox is taking a different sort of pride in achieving another, less obvious goal. As a veteran he has been pushed to provide leadership to younger defensive linemen all fall. Coaching them along, even. Now he can see all that extra effort paying off in others.
"I mean all the young guys are looking good," he said, with special attention to former defensive end-turned-tackle Corvell Harrison-Gay. "Corvell made a lot of plays today, we talked about it in the meeting room how the young guys are making plays. Not just Corvell but P.J. Jones, Curtis Virges, I saw John Harris make some plays, just all the young guys. Kaleb Eulls is still getting reps and getting better, he made some plays today."
"You can just see from the first day, when they're running around like chickens with their heads cut off and don't know what's going on. The game comes real fast, nothing like high school where it's so slow and the coach is not on you. The first day they're running around and think they're playing hard, but they see what hard work is. Now I can feel it."
Not just defensive linemen were making Monday plays. This third practice pitted ones-on-ones much more than any time since the last August scrimmage, and if not a ‘tackle' practice per se whoever rushed or caught the ball ended up down on the ground consistently. Even in periods not pitting full teams-on-teams, the defense came out aggressively.
Such as when linebacker Deonte Skinner read quarterback Tyler Russell's eyes and stepped right in front of a throw for the interception with an open lane to the other end zone. "That was in seven-on-seven," said Cox, who was on another practice field at the time. "I heard them there riled-up and looked over and saw Deonte running with the ball."
The Bulldogs continue bowl practices with 1:00 sessions Tuesday and Wednesday, and a morning workout on Thursday before their Friday evening scrimmage.