COLUMBIA — J’den Cox was sitting in the stands watching a Hickman football practice during his junior year. He had given up football after tearing the meniscus in his knee and playing only two games for the Kewpies as a sophomore. Cox had already won two state wrestling championships and didn’t want to jeopardize his bright future on the mat.
But once he started hearing the pads pop, Cox could feel himself getting hyped up, and realized he didn’t like his view.
at Hickman (3-0)
WHEN: 7 p.m.
WHERE: LeMone Field at Hickman High School
“I was just sitting there,” Cox said. “It didn’t feel the same. Every football game that I’ve been to except for like two, I’ve been on the football field. That’s the view I like.”
Now a senior, Cox has since won a third state wrestling championship and become one of the leaders on a Kewpies defense that has surrendered just 14 points in the past two weeks, anchoring the team’s 3-0 start.
Hickman coach Arnel Monroe doesn’t give Cox, a linebacker, all the credit for the defense’s success, though.
“I think our whole defense is a weapon,” Monroe said. “We focus more on the team aspect, but he’s a big wheel in that cog.”
The success of the entire defense has taken some of the pressure off Cox, who doesn’t necessarily think the defense needs a leader.
“I’m going to say what I need to say, and do what I need to do, but I don’t feel as if I’m in front of the pack,” Cox said. “We’re just a team that plays really good defense. People are hungry to make plays on defense.”
That team aspect is part of what drew Cox, who is used to the individual competition of wrestling, back to playing football.
“Whatever you’re going through, you’re fighting the same battle with 10 guys that are right there with you, and that love you and want to pursue the same goal, and that’s to win,” Cox said. “When the game is on the line, there is nobody I trust more than those 10 guys next to me."
Monroe said the Kewpies are lucky to have Cox, who plans to wrestle for MU next year. While wrestling is his future, Monroe says Cox makes football his priority during the season.
“J’den is a tremendous, tremendous wrestler who happens to like playing football,” Monroe said. “He loves his teammates and loves Hickman. We’re blessed to have him.”
Hickman had to feel fortunate to have Cox last Friday night. In the first quarter of Hickman's 56-7 victory over Smith-Cotton, Cox stripped opposing quarterback Dakota Brown and found his way to the end zone for the first time in his career.
His second career touchdown came minutes later when he intercepted Brown and hurdled multiple would-be tacklers on his way to crossing the goal line.
Even after his great individual performance, Cox remained focused on his teammates.
“I love this team,” Cox said. “It’s all about the name on the front. There’s no individuals on this team.”
While Hickman’s success, his talent and his relationship with teammates all make football tough for Cox to resist, his main reason for playing is simple.
“I play football because I want to have fun,” Cox said.
The fun continues for Hickman at 7 p.m. Friday night, when the team defends its perfect record at home against Helias Catholic. Lucky for the Kewpies and for Cox, he will have his favorite view from the heart of the defense.