ORLANDO, Fla. - Psst
don't tell anybody, but backup quarterback Joe Cox used to a wear a Tennessee hat as a youngster growing up in Charlotte, N.C.
No, the Georgia junior never had a secret affection for the hated Volunteers. But he sure loved Bill Dance.
Dance, whose long-running fishing show remains popular today, is known for wearing his signature Tennessee cap in each of his shows.
"I wanted to be just like him," said Cox, an avid bass fisherman. "I even had one of those Tennessee hats when I was a little kid, although you won't be seeing me wear it now."
These days, reporters and friends are trying to lure Cox into giving them the answer they all think he knows - the future of starting quarterback Matthew Stafford?
Unless you've been hiding under a dock, Stafford has until Jan. 15 to announce whether or not he will leave following his junior year and apply for April's NFL Draft.
Cox said he doesn't know what Stafford will do. He's glad that's the case.
"The toughest thing for me is people have been asking me like I'm supposed to know. Now I've got my friends calling me and other people, all of them asking 'Is he leaving? Is he going?'" Cox said. "I have no clue. He's going to make the right decision for him. Whatever he does, I can see him going either way. It just depends on where his heart is and I'm going to support him either way. I'm ready for either situation."
Cox, who figures to benefit the most should Stafford decide to leave, said he doesn't plan on bugging his friends between now and then to find out what he is going to do.
"That's his decision. I don't think I need to be coming in and asking him what he's thinking about doing or trying to get him to do one thing or the other," Cox said. "He's going to have to make the decision with his family, depending on what's best for him. I'm sure he'll make the right decision."
Whatever Stafford decides, head coach Mark Richt believes Georgia's quarterback situation will be in good hands.
Although he got in only three games for the Bulldogs this fall, Cox completed 11-of-15 passes for 151 yards and two touchdowns. Stafford has always been impressed with what he's seen.
"I think if I would have gone down with an injury this year that he could have stepped in and done an outstanding job," Stafford said. "We see it every day in practice. The guy has a bunch of skill and with guys around him he can get them the ball. He's a real accurate passer, and I think he could run this offense just fine."
As much as Cox wants to play, he also understands his role and is not about to make any waves despite taking fewer snaps as a junior than in any of his previous two years.
"There wasn't anything promised as far as playing time so it wasn't anything that upset me. It all depended on how the offense was doing at that point and time. That's how I understood it," Cox said. "There were certain points in the game where you could tell that Matthew needed to be in because we weren't gelling too well. It didn't make sense to just give me a certain amount of reps during a particular point in the game just to please me. That's not what it's about."
For his career, Cox has completed 33-of-58 passes for 432 yards with five touchdowns and just one interception. His lone career start came in 2006 against Ole Miss after replacing Stafford against Colorado when he led the Bulldogs to a 14-13 victory after throwing a 20-yard touchdown pass to Martrez Miler with just 46 seconds to play.
"Of course, I want to play like everybody else but you have to find your niche and now I've been able to help a lot of the younger guys and get them ready for the field just to be out there helping them in practice," Cox said. "That's made me feel real good about myself. I'm ready whenever my number's called. I'm not going to complain about anything. I'm happy about the situation I'm in and I've got to make the best of it."
Offensive coordinator Mike Bobo couldn't be more pleased.
Although redshirt freshman Logan Gray remains a viable candidate to one day compete for the starting quarterback job, Cox was tabbed as the solid No. 2 soon after preseason practice began.
"Joe is not afraid to lead even though he's a second-team guy. He encourages guys. He gets on guys and that's what you need out of your quarterback," Bobo said. "And he gets along with everybody. Offensive and defensive guys, I think he kind of transcends both sides and even though he's not a starter he's one of the leaders on this football team."
It's a role Cox said he readily embraces and regardless of whether he ever gets to start or not, he believes his experience is something that can help some of his younger teammates whenever they're having issues of their own.
"I see a lot of guys get down on themselves and I'm able to talk to them when I say 'Hey, I've been there. I've been going through the same thing,' they know that it's the truth," Cox said. "I think that's definitely helped me out a lot. Being in the situation I am I've seen times where I've gotten a lot of praise and gotten to play and I've seen games where I didn't get in the game once. I think that's helped a lot with me being able to help the younger guys that are struggling where they are at their position and how much time they're getting to play."
Of course, if they ever need some fishing tips, Cox is the man for that job, too.
Don't believe him? There's a 10-pound bass on the wall in his apartment that he caught in an Oconee County pond.
"We go fishing a lot. He's way better than me," Bobo said. "I'll catch 10 or 12 and that joker's catching about 60. I'll use his lures and still don't catch them. He's a very good fisherman. He says he wants to coach, I think he needs to get on that Bass Pro circuit and go fishing."
That would suit Cox just fine.
"It's just what I grew up doing," said Cox, who also likes to saltwater fish for Red Drum and Sea Trout. "I like saltwater but I really like being on a pond where they're all hemmed up and have nowhere to go."
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