COLUMBIA — The time when Christian Geen cried is long ago.
Hickman's senior linebacker was 6 years old when he first met J'den Cox, currently a Missouri freshman wrestler after finishing his Hickman career as a four-time state champion and football letterman. The two grew up together on the mats at the Columbia Youth Wrestling Club. Years later, they tag-teamed as teenaged linebackers, most recently on Hickman's 9-2 2012 team.
Hickman (0-1) at Wentzville Holt (0-1)
WHEN: 7 p.m.
WHERE: Holt High School
"I remember Christian crying a lot," said Cox.
But not now. Now you won't see him cry.
Now he's a sturdy-built 17-year-old holding his scruffy chin up as teammates saunter out of Hickman's silenced football locker room. They had just lost 27-16 to a fledgling Lee's Summit North program Friday night.
Geen could only shake his head afterward and speak of how the high of the 9-2 campaign from the year before proved to be a crutch leading up to this season.
"We just came out thinking we were gonna win just because we had good season last year," he said after the game. "We can't do that."
You won't see him cry now. Now, he's the 205-pound captain standing on the sideline in a T-shirt and shorts earlier this week during practice. Geen had sacrificed his shoulder Friday night, had felt a hit and the deep sting that followed. He supposes it happened at some point in the second quarter.
But he continued to launch himself into opponents on defense. He did the same on offense once he was called to sub in at center.
He shrugs now. He says something under his breath about how his team needed him.
Friday's loss is behind him he insists, and you won't see Geen cry now.
But what Cox's earliest memories of Geen are of him as a teary-eyed toddler.
It was never over physical pain.
"The thing about Christian is, he’s really dedicated," Cox said. "Like, even when he was younger, he worked hard, you know? That’s just who he is. That's his mindset.
"(But) he'd never cry against me," he said. "It’d be against somebody he believed he should’ve beat or he should’ve beaten worse."
After having Cox at his side the past three years, Geen is assuming a duty that's been vacated.
"J'den taught Christian well and how to lead," senior teammate Roderick Beasley said. "Christian’s taking over his role."
Geen showed his potential as soon as his varsity career started as a freshman. Coaches inserted him into a 2011 district contest against Jefferson City, and Geen responded by surging through to make a tackle behind the line on his first play. He got to the quarterback on the next.
"It was his determination," coach Arnel Monroe said about playing the freshman. "He had a natural instinct for the linebacker position."
Geen had a starting job the next season alongside Cox. In practices, as other players shied away from Cox's iron force, Geen would challenge it.
"He wanted to push me, and I pushed him. I wasn't gonna take it easy," Cox said. "The big thing was, he wanted to be better than what he was, and he knew he was gonna have to be pushed further."
Having won all 56 of his high school wrestling matches, Cox's reputation has been built on his bringing of pain. Geen saw him as a prime resource.
"It's nice," Geen said, "when you can go against a guy who can beat you."
On game nights, Cox said their chemistry "came naturally." They lined up with each other along the offensive line, too.
"I love that dude," Geen said. "He really changed the way I played in a sense that he made me wanna play mean, wanna really hurt the guy in front of me. It's hard to change someone’s mindset. He did that."
Cox was on Hickman's sideline Friday night. He watched LeMone Field be commandeered by Lee's Summit North's Josh Caldwell, the running back who recorded 305 yards and three scores on 18 carries. Cox winced at every missed tackle.
Hickman is without its safe citadel in Cox. Heading into a three-game road trip that starts Friday against Holt in Wentzville, the team seeks a new refuge.
"We’re standing on the beach and Achilles is dead," Monroe said. "We better start building a horse. Christian’s one of those guys. He’s gonna be one of those guys that helps redefine where we are and where we’re going."
During conditioning at the end of practice, Geen was ahead of his teammates and running in a way that looked ferocious — head pressed ahead, legs and arms pumping madly.
"I wouldn't say he’s 'a' leader, I'd say he’s 'the' leader," Cox said. "Now, when I think Hickman football, I think Christian Geen."