Starting quarterback was Stafford’s perennial backup for four seasons
By David Hale
ATHENS, Ga. — For four seasons, Joe Cox was motivated by the possibility that next year would be his year. For four seasons, he waited.
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, and he’s on a mission to leave on top.
“I don’t have any aspirations to play another year after this,” said Cox, a 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 he said that was never the hard part. It was falling short of the team’s goals that killed him, and that’s what Cox hopes he can rectify in his final year with the Bulldogs.
“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 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 already.
Like Cox, D.J. Shockley was a career backup for Mark Richt’s Bulldogs, but when David Greene graduated after the 2004 season, Shockley was handed the reigns 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, 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 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 one season, but he is trying to get the most out of Georgia’s potential.
So from the moment he took over the job in January, Cox has been the vocal leader. He organized offseason workouts. He helped get the new freshmen ready to play. He worked with the backup quarterbacks. 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.”