COLUMBIA — For Hickman wrestler J’den Cox the concept of "senior-itis" does not exist. He takes no days off.
The three-time wrestling state champion, who has already signed a letter of intent to wrestle for the Missouri Tigers, said that he is determined to collect a fourth state wrestling title.
“We hope by the end of the year, that he will be a four-time state champion,” Hickman wrestling head coach J.D. Coffman said. “In that case he will be Columbia’s first four-time state champion.”
Cox, however, stressed the importance of focusing on smaller, short term improvements.
“I just want to win the next match ahead of me, focus on each practice and work on getting better,” he said.
Coffman said that Cox wrestled at a 171-pound weight class as a freshman. Depending on his opponents, Cox now wrestles at either the 220-pound level or at the heavyweight level of 285 pounds. Coffman said that Missouri wrestling coach Brian Smith would be pleased with Cox.
“Any coach would appreciate a guy that would come in with his level of skill and technique, as well as his intensity and desire to always challenge himself against the best.” Coffman said.
Cox traveled to Fargo, N.D. the past two summers and wrestled in a national freestyle and Greco-Roman competition. Cox placed first in Greco-Roman in 2011 and won the Freestyle competition in 2012.
“Being a three-time state champion, he has beaten the best high school kids in Missouri in his weight (class), so the next challenge would be to beat the best kids in the nation,” Coffman said. “He is always looking to challenge himself and that would be the next challenge.”
Cox said he will have more opportunities to wrestle against the best in the nation while competing at the college level, but remains focused on finishing his high school career on a high note.
“I signed the paper, but I told my mom that I don’t count myself a Tiger until I walk through the doors and I’m no longer a Kewp,” Cox said. “I'm excited to be one, (a Tiger) but I need to focus on where I am right now with my team, and I need to get better here so I can make the transfer to the college level.”
According to Wrestling USA Magazine, Cox is nationally ranked as the best senior wrestler competing at the 220-pound weight class.
Junior Brandon Elder said that Cox succeeds because of his awareness on the mat.
“He knows what move to do and when to do it,” Elder said. “Wrestling is like chess, you need to think about your next move.”
Coffman agreed and said that Cox controls matches by anticipating his opponent's next move.
“We want our wrestlers to wrestle their style of match and if they do, then you always are a step ahead,” Coffman said. "If you know what you want to do, then you’ll be a step ahead instead of wrestling the opponents’ style and trying to defend what he is doing.”
Cox also possesses a unique blend of size, strength and agility.
“One of the things that makes J’den great is that for a guy his size, he moves incredibly quick," Coffman said. “There are not many other guys 220 pounds that can move like he does.”
Cox, however, likes to credit his relentless work ethic.
“I want to go as hard as I can,” he said. “It’s so tiring, but it is going to get us better.”
It is this relentless drive that serves as an example for his fellow Kewpie wrestlers.
“I’m not a vocal leader, but I do my best to lead by example,” Cox said. “There is no better way because actions speak louder than words.”
Assistant coaches Ben Smith and Jake Glore prepare Cox for his matches. This preparation often involves "hand-to-hand fighting," whereby Cox and Smith push each other over the mats, into walls and even into other wrestlers. Cox relishes the opportunity to try and take down the larger, older Glore, who wrestled at MU.
“I look forward to coming in and working with them because I know they are going to push me as hard as I can,” Cox said.
Glore said Cox is a prime example of what it takes to be a great wrestler, and that Cox is tougher than some of the guys he competed against in college.
“It’s so hard to adjust going from high school to college, and I hope the hard work prepares him for that level,” Glore said.
On Wednesday, Cox picked up assistant coach Ben Smith, hoisted him onto his back and sprinted the length of the room.
“If I don’t push myself then I’m not only letting myself down. I’m letting my teammates down, and I’m not doing the best to make somebody else better,” Cox said.
Cox also has a strong bond with his teammates. When a younger member of the team stayed after practice on Wednesday to do extra conditioning as punishment for his behavior, Cox stood by and encouraged him.
“He’s a three-time state champion on and off the mat,” Glore said.
In the future, Cox said that he aspires to be a motivational speaker.
“I want to be one of those guys who is a regular dude and says I busted my butt everyday, I’m doing this now and I want you to succeed,” Cox said. “I want to bring some realism into it.”
That Cox "busts his butt everyday" is one reason why he has won three state wrestling titles and looks poised to win a fourth.