COLUMBIA — J’den Cox could barely stand up.
Cox, a senior linebacker on the Hickman football team, was leaning on teammate Jared Hyler as the Kewpies captains stood at midfield for the overtime coin toss in the team’s 10-7 win over Rock Bridge in the district semifinals on Friday night. Cox had left the game with an injury just moments earlier.
No. 2 seed Hickman (9-1)
at No. 1 seed Francis Howell (10-1)
WHEN: 7 p.m. Friday
WHERE: St. Charles
With about seven minutes to play in the fourth quarter, Cox hit the turf clutching his ankle. As he writhed on the ground in pain, a concerned silence fell over the Kewpies crowd.
Coach Arnel Monroe, who calls Cox his team’s fire, huddled around Cox with Hickman’s training staff before helping him off the field. The student body began to chant Cox's name.
For a moment, the Kewpies’ fire had been put out.
But that didn’t last long, as Cox hobbled on the field to play overtime with his team’s season in the balance, lighting a fire under the Kewpies.
“J’den’s a superhero,” junior defensive back Justise Keith said. “J’den doesn’t feel pain.”
Cox said running wasn’t the issue, but stopping and cutting caused him a considerable amount of pain. But Cox wasn’t going to be kept off the field.
“Sitting on the sideline to me is letting my team down,” Cox said. “It’s not an option to be hurt. I’m going to force myself to do what I have to do no matter what the pain has to be.”
While Cox wasn’t at 100 percent, the rest of Hickman’s defense rallied around him, forcing a turnover in overtime to preserve a three-point victory.
“How you answer adversity shuts up your critics,” Monroe said. “When J’den was down, I told them ‘We’ve got to answer.’ They fought for each other.”
Cox’s teammates might not have shown their concern over the injury, but others in attendance couldn’t hide their distress over the star linebacker’s pain. Cox said his girlfriend was freaking out in the stands as he was being helped off the field.
MU wrestling coach Brian Smith was also in attendance. Cox, a three-time state champion wrestler, is set to officially sign with the Tigers wrestling team on Nov. 15.
Smith is unable to comment on Cox until he officially signs the papers, but Cox said Smith was joking about it the next day when the two were together at Missouri’s Black and Gold exhibition meet.
“He told me, ‘Oh, you were just being dramatic,'”Cox said shaking his head with a smile.
Cox and the Kewpies will now get set to face Francis Howell on Friday in the district championship game. Just a few days after the injury, Cox was a full participant in Hickman practice on Monday.
When asked about the nature and severity of Cox’ injury, Monroe laughed.
“That’s a Belichick,” Monroe said with a chuckle, referring to New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick, who is traditionally secretive about his team’s injuries.
Despite not revealing Cox’s injury, Monroe was confident the Kewpies would have their fire for Friday night’s game.
Cox said Monroe wouldn’t have much of a say in whether he takes the field.
“He’s not going to keep me off the field anyways,” Cox said. “I’m going to sneak out there even if I have to put another number on. This is my senior year.”