At the head of his class

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April 26, 2009

11:25 AM

As he has throughout the draft process, College of William and Mary senior cornerback Derek Cox stayed low-key on Sunday.

“I woke up, my brother gave me a haircut, I took a shower and started getting ready for church,” he said. “Just a normal day.”

That normal Sunday morning didn’t last long. Shortly after 10:30 a.m., Cox received a call on his cell phone from a Florida area code. Waiting on the other end was Jacksonville Jaguar’s General Manager Gene Smith. The Jaguars had just selected Cox with the 73rd overall pick of the 2009 NFL Draft.

“I just couldn’t stop smiling,” Cox said. “They asked me how do I feel about playing for the Jacksonville
Jaguars? That was an easy answer right there.”

Entering the weekend, many draft analysts and websites had him classified as either a 7th round pick or an undrafted free agent. However, the cornerback’s tremendous physical skills — Cox ran 40-yard dash times of 4.39 and 4.42 at his Pro Day — gave him the momentum needed to move up the draft board. By Sunday night, Cox had become the first Tribe player drafted into the NFL since Darren Sharper ’96 was selected in the second round of the 1997 draft.

For Cox, the selection capped a semester of disciplined preparation and training. The senior worked out for scouts from four teams at his Pro Day in March and garnered several individual workouts with a standout performance. Despite being invited to several teams’ headquarters — including the Jaguars’ — for further examination, Cox had little indication of where his chances actually stood.

“I didn’t know where I would go,” he said. “Coming into the whole process, I kept the mentality that I would be an undrafted free agent. I didn’t want to get attached and have that emotional stress.”

Instead, Cox found himself in demand on draft day. The Jaguars traded up with the New England Patriots to select the cornerback with the 9th pick of the third round, sending their 7th round selection and a 2010 second-rounder to New England in the deal.

“We did a lot of homework on this guy. When you make a move like that, you have to feel confident he can
play at this level,” Smith said in a press conference Sunday afternoon. “We got a guy who we feel is a second-round talent.”

The selection left many draft experts stunned. ESPN’s draft guru Mel Kiper Jr. spent several moments ranting on-air about how he only had Cox rated as his 106th best overall cornerback. NFL franchises thought differently. “We feel he is a guy who can come in and compete at the corner position,” Smith said. “We were hoping that in the third round he would be there, and it fell that way.”

Meanwhile, Cox was in Raleigh, N.C. visiting his brother Travis. The two were preparing to go to church, not paying any attention to a draft in which Cox did not expect to be a viable selection until the later rounds.

“My brother was rushing me to get ready because he didn’t know who I was on the phone with,” Cox said. “I told him ‘Travis they’re about to draft me.’ He started getting really excited, starting celebrating.”

The senior turned on the TV and the moment sunk in.

“It hit me the same time it hit everybody else, when it came up on TV,” he said. “It was different seeing my name show up. It was a surreal experience.”

Cox’s voicemail inbox filled up within an hour with messages of congratulations from friends and family.

However, soon it was back to business.

“I talked to the general manager and a couple of the coaches,” Cox said. “Then, after that, I went to church.”
Cox finished his day by spending the afternoon writing a paper due Monday, and headed back to Williamsburg in the evening.

The senior planned to spend yesterday and today working out at the College before heading down to Jacksonville Wednesday, ahead of the team’s rookie minicamp, which begins Friday.

There, Cox will place thoughts of the draft behind him and set his attention towards ensuring he is ready to step onto the field in the fall.

“The draft is about the glamour. It was good for people that know me, they were happy and sending me texts,” Cox said. “But starting Friday, it’s back to business.”

The senior did, however, allow himself a rare reward. After a semester spent on a strict football diet, Cox treated himself to a burger at Chilis.

“I got that burger for dinner,” he said. “It was delicious.”

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