Coordinating offseason workouts, keeping tabs on his teammates, running the offense – those things haven’t been too hard to learn. He’d been preparing for them his entire career. The attention from fans and the inquiries from reporters, however – that’s new.
“You answer questions that are all pretty much the same thing from a lot of people,” he said.
For all the comparisons between Cox and former Georgia quarterback D.J. Shockley, who also waited until his fifth season to finally land a starting job, that’s the difference, head coach Mark Richt said.
Shockley knew a time would eventually come when the spotlight would shine on him. He knew David Greene would graduate and there would be a year when the team would be his. For Cox, nothing was guaranteed until Matthew Stafford announced he was leaving school for the NFL in January.
Stafford’s news conference had barely ended before the cameras turned to Cox. He was an overnight sensation.
While the attention is new, however, the job is old hat for Cox. He new what the role required, and the task of nailing down the offense, galvanizing the team around him and becoming the voice of the Bulldogs has actually been pretty simple thanks to all the work he put in ahead of time.
“Joe milks every ounce of practice and every opportunity he gets,” Richt said. “I think players respect a guy that has that kind of knowledge because they know what it takes to gain it. Not many guys are in a position to even learn that much let alone be willing to do that.”
This offseason, Cox coordinated the team’s workouts – some of the most arduous in Richt’s tenure, according to a number of Bulldogs – and took two freshman quarterbacks under his wing, but his own work hasn’t ended. He spent just as much time fine tuning his own skills to get ready for the moment when he leads Georgia onto the field for only the second time in his career.
“He’s always out there working,” receiver A.J. Green said. “When we have (pass drills), he’s always the first one out there, getting warmed up and getting everyone together.”
Knowing the offense is one thing, Cox said. His goal is to master it – and he’s not entirely sure that’s possible.
The way Cox sees it, he’s a veteran, despite his lack of playing experience. So when his team is on the field, he wants to know what’s happening at any given time and be ready to communicate that to everyone around him.
“I want to be able to make quick decisions and the right decisions all the time,” Cox said. “It’s really been a lot of studying and making sure I’m the guy that can keep the team in the right situation all the time.”
When his playing days are done – perhaps as soon as next year – Cox hopes to become a football coach. It’s a dream that fits perfectly with his personality. He’s fanatical about being prepared, always wanting to know what to expect before it happens.
It’s no wonder then that Richt is so confident that Cox will step so smoothly into the job of starting quarterback this season.
“To me, quarterbacks need to be accurate, they need to be great decision makers, they need to be able to handle the pressure of the job, and they need to be leaders,” Richt said. “Joe is all of those personified.”
Still, it’s those little things that surprise Cox, and he knows there are too many of them to account for. It’s one thing to have studied the job, to know the offense, to be prepared for the pressure. But until he walks onto the field at Oklahoma State on Sept. 5, he can’t know for sure what it will be like. He remembers the sights and sounds of his lone start three years ago, but even the most vivid memories can’t prepare him for what’s ahead.
“When it gets really loud, those first couple drives of the game – Ole Miss was loud, but when we play at Florida or go to Tennessee, that’s a different animal. That’s going to be the one thing that – I’m not so worried about it, but I’m excited to see what it’s going to be like.”
And that’s where the parallels between Cox and Shockley make a lot more sense, Richt said.
The Georgia coach remembers how excited and nervous Shockley was in the days leading up to his first start in his fifth season at Georgia. Shockley could hardly sleep the night before the Bulldogs’ opener against Boise State. Richt expects Cox will feel the same way as Georgia’s date with Oklahoma State draws closer.
But nerves have a way of fading to the background with enough focus and preparation, and while Cox may not have known that day would eventually come, Richt is pretty sure he was preparing for it anyway.
“The more prepared you are, the more confidence you have,” Richt said, “and Joe has that working for him.”