ATHENS, Ga. -- Could he be the next D.J. Shockley and quarterback Georgia to a Southeastern Conference title as a fifth-year senior? Or could he be the next Joe Tereshinski and get replaced midway through the season by a more talented youngster?
Could he even be the next Chris Leak, who preceded him at Charlotte's Independence High School, and wind up with a national championship?
Joe Cox's final season with the Bulldogs could go numerous directions, but after a summer of being compared to just about everybody, he's ready to find out.
"The biggest thing I want to see is what it's going to be like when it gets really loud, right in those first couple of drives of a game," Cox said. "I played in that situation at Ole Miss as a freshman, and Ole Miss was loud, but when we go down to Florida or when we go to Tennessee, that's a different animal. I want to see what it's going to be like just trying to communicate.
"That's going to be the one thing that I'm -- well, I'm not worried about, but I'm kind of excited to see what it's going to be like."
The 6-foot-1, 198-pounder should get his wish right away, as the No. 13 Bulldogs open Sept. 5 at No. 9 Oklahoma State. Boone Pickens Stadium seats more than 60,000, which makes it similar to Vaught-Hemingway at Ole Miss, but it's configured so that fans seem on top of the action.
It's a daunting first task considering Cox may have to produce a slew of points to keep pace with the free-wheeling Cowboys, but he will enter with the trust of his coaches and teammates.
"Joe has prepared for this moment," coach Mark Richt said. "When you are the second-team quarterback, you know you are one play away from starting. He has been that for a while, so he has been preparing to be the starter for quite some time knowing that in that game he might not get in and really throughout his career he might not get in.
"Until Matthew Stafford declared (for the NFL draft), he was in a situation where he may not only not play in any given game, but not play in any given season his whole career. He never griped. He never complained. He just worked."
To reflect the support Cox has from his teammates, Richt goes back to the exit meetings coaches held with players after spring practice. Every player had to name the team leaders, and Richt said 106 out of 110 included Cox and that most mentioned him first.
Cox was eager to get the college recruiting process over, so he committed to Duke in May 2004. Within a month, though, he attended a camp at Georgia, received a scholarship offer from the Bulldogs and switched from an ACC straggler to an SEC power.
Rivals.com rated Cox the No. 7 pro-style quarterback in the '05 class, a list headed by Southern Cal signee Mark Sanchez and Tennessee signee Jonathan Crompton.
Cox led Independence High to its fourth and fifth straight North Carolina state titles. He was 31-0 as the starter and as a senior completed 240 of 363 passes for 4,509 yards with a state-record 66 touchdowns and five interceptions.
"You can't make him 6-foot-4," then-Independence coach Bill Geiler said in '05, "but he completed some unbelievable passes for us at the 6-foot-1 that he is. Georgia is getting a great quarterback."
His favorite target at Independence was Mohamed Massaquoi, and the two Parade All-Americans came to Georgia together. Massaquoi amassed 2,282 receiving yards in his four seasons, which ranks fourth in program history, but Cox has rested most game days and fended off occasional transfer rumors.
"I never really thought about leaving," he said. "When I signed to come to Georgia, it was for good. Even if Matthew had come back, I still would not have regretted coming here and staying here. I've made too many good friends and had too good of a time."
Cox briefly beat out Stafford for the starting job on Sept. 23, 2006, when he threw two fourth-quarter touchdown passes to lead the Bulldogs past Colorado, 14-13. He got his lone start the next week at Ole Miss but struggled, completing 4 of 10 passes for 24 yards and watching Stafford play the second half.
After playing four games as a redshirt freshman and six as a sophomore, Cox played in only three games last season, including one of the last 11. He has 33 completions in 58 career attempts (57.9 percent) for 432 yards, with five touchdowns and an interception.
"I've played against a lot of good teams and gotten a good feel of what it's like just being on the field in certain places," Cox said. "Sure, I would like to have more experience, but I don't, and we've just got to roll with what we've got."
Said Richt: "Joe milks every ounce of every opportunity. We've put him through a lot of situations in practice. We've put him through more situations in practice than you would get in any given game."
FULL OF PRIDE
With 7:21 remaining in last year's Georgia-Florida game, Cox went in to replace Stafford. Nearly every Bulldogs backer had left and nearly every Florida fan remained, as the Gators were rolling 49-3.
"When we got in the huddle, obviously we knew weren't coming back," Cox said, "but we were all in there saying, 'Let's not be even more embarrassed than what we've already been. Let's take it down the field one time, put some points on the board, and let's get out of here.'"
Tailback Richard Samuel and tight end Aron White are starters now but were reserves who accompanied Cox on that 10-play, 80-yard touchdown drive. Samuel had half of the drive's yardage on four carries, and White capped it with a 19-yard reception.
Cox is two inches shorter and 30 pounds lighter than Stafford and doesn't have the same powerful arm, but offensive coordinator Mike Bobo believes he can be more accurate. His teammates are hinting he may do a better job of taking charge.
"Joe is more of a vocal leader than Matthew," senior defensive tackle Jeff Owens said. "They're both great guys, but Joe is more vocal than Matt."
If the fiery redhead can produce sparks on the field, comparisons to Shockley could be valid. Their styles of play are different, and Shockley set a high bar in 2005 by throwing for 24 touchdowns and five interceptions.
Yet Shockley didn't get the chance to beat Florida because he was injured, and that's where Cox hopes his story has a different outcome.
"We won two years ago, and we got to dance on the field," Cox said. "They won last year, and they got to call those timeouts. Hopefully our retaliation is just to compete with them and come out of there with a victory."
David Paschall is a sports writer for the Times Free Press. He started at the Chattanooga Free Press in 1990 and was part of the Times Free Press when the paper started in 1999. David covers University of Georgia football, as well as SEC football recruiting, SEC basketball, Chattanooga Lookouts baseball and other sports stories. He is a Chattanooga native and graduate of the Baylor School and Auburn University. David has received numerous honors for ...