FLORIDA FOOTBALL & RECRUITING COVERAGE
- Part I – Shorter the right player at the right time
- Part II – Cox excited, ready to flourish at Florida
- Part III – Lingard finding his stride at Florida
Through two full recruiting cycles as head coach of the Florida Gators, Dan Mullen and his staff have signed just one composite five-star prospect from the high school ranks.
However, they’ve utilized the transfer portal perhaps more effectively than any other team in the country as they try to close the talent gap between themselves and the top teams in the country. They’ve landed three former five-stars in the past eight months via transfers: defensive end/linebacker Brenton Cox, running back Lorenzo Lingard and wide receiver Justin Shorter.
Obviously, they have the talent to succeed at Florida. You don’t get ranked as a five-star without possessing an elevated skill-set. However, it takes more than pure talent to compete with the nation’s elite, and each of the three players failed at their initial stop for various reasons.
Why were they ranked as five-stars to begin with? Why did they fail out at their first schools? Why might things be different for them at UF? Inside the Gators went on a mission to find those who know them best for the answers.
Up today is Cox.
Brenton Cox Jr. transferred into Stockbridge (Georgia) High School prior to his junior year a bit under-the-radar as a recruit.
He impressed his new coaches right away in the offseason workouts, and they knew he would probably have a big impact before he ever played a snap for them, said Kevin Whitley, his head coach at Stockbridge.
Their assessment proved correct.
In one game during his junior season, he blocked a kick, swatted down a pass at the line of scrimmage and made an interception, said Justen Rivers, his defensive ends coach.
“From then on, I was like, ‘Yeah, this kid’s going to be pretty special for us,’” he said.
His rapid ascent culminated when he dominated a bunch of camps after his junior season and was ranked as a five-star prospect. That year he joined a train of six other five-star recruits headed to Georgia as part of the No. 1 ranked class in the country.
According to Rivers, Cox was named a five-star because of his measurables and versatility. He has the size to play inside and stuff the run and the athleticism to play outside linebacker or defensive end and rush the passer. He opens up a ton of options for his defensive coordinator.
“Size and speed,” Whitley said. “You can’t coach [6-foot-5]. He’s 250, 260 [pounds]. He can run. He’s strong, works hard. That’s what everybody’s looking for.”
Unlike the other five-star transfers the Gators have nabbed over the past year, Cox actually played a fairly significant role in Athens at one point. He played in 13 of their 14 games as an outside linebacker in 2018 and started the Sugar Bowl loss to Texas, in which he made a career-best six tackles.
Then last August, he mysteriously entered the transfer portal. Early reports stated that he was dismissed from the team for disciplinary reasons, which UGA coach Kirby Smart later denied. Others suggested that he had been passed on the depth chart by multiple players and his departure was purely playing-time based.
Whitley spoke with Cox shortly after he entered the portal and told him that he would help him in any way he could, he said. A number of schools called him to find out some background information on him, including Florida.
As it turned out, Cox didn’t need any assistance from his former coaches. He had already identified UF as his next stop. He told Rivers that he chose the Gators because he thought he fit into their scheme better, he liked the staff and he knew some of the players. He’s really close with his mother, so he wanted to stay reasonably close to home as well.
He enrolled at Florida just days after entering the portal and began practicing with the team. UF applied for an immediate eligibility waiver with the NCAA, which was apparently denied, much to Dan Mullen’s chagrin. He used the situation multiple times to call out the NCAA for their perceived inconsistencies in awarding waivers.
In reality, Cox probably wouldn’t have played much of a role anyway with the dominant season Jonathan Greenard turned in and Jeremiah Moon’s bevy of experience.
He’ll have a chance to contribute this season and possibly even be the starter at ‘Buck’ with Greenard’s departure and Moon and David Reese coming off season-ending injuries.
So far, Cox’s time as a Gator is going well, both on the field and in the classroom.
“He said things are going well,” Whitley said. “He sent me a copy of his report card. He had all A’s and B’s. So, he’s off to a good start.
“I’m sure he went in and done what he’s done everywhere else. Went in and worked hard, trying to learn the system so he can give himself an opportunity to play.”
Rivers said two of Cox’s primary focuses this offseason are to improve his bend around the edge and to come out of his stance quicker.
“I think they’re doing a good job down there as well working with him already, just to let him know if he’s going to play that end position or outside linebacker position like he’s done, use a little bit more bend and hands and explosion would be great for him,” he said.
It hasn’t been the start to his college career that he imagined. No five-star prospect expects to transfer after one year and to only make one start in their first two seasons. But that’s the reality Cox has faced. He has a chance for a fresh start at a new school, and he’s determined to make the most of it.
“From what I can tell, he seems excited,” Rivers said. “Up under [Todd] Grantham, it’s one of those things that he can flourish up under there and he can just do what he’s been doing before. I know he didn’t have the year he wanted to have in the previous years, but now he’s just excited for a new start.”