Freddie Swain was shocked, Trevon Grimes was floored and one can only assume defensive coordinator Todd Grantham has been smiling. Linebacker Brenton Cox Jr. has officially been added to the Florida Gators roster after transferring from the University of Georgia just last week, and began practicing with the team on Friday.
“He’s phenomenal; he’s good, he’s fast, he’s quick."
Cox played in 13 games as a true freshman with the Bulldogs, including a start in the Sugar Bowl. Primarily used as a backup depth player, he totaled 20 tackles, including seven solo, and had a career high six stops in the Sugar Bowl against Texas.
After only a handful of practices with the Gators, the second year linebacker has made a quick impression.
“He’s phenomenal,” asserts wide receiver Tre Grimes.
“He’s good, he’s fast, he’s quick. He actually has some move that I’ve never seen before but he’s phenomenal and I feel like he’ll be a great add-on to our defense.”
The “move” in question, according to Grimes, is a reverse spin move.
“I don’t even know what to call it cause I’m not on D-line but it was some crazy spin move thing that he did like ‘whoa’ and all the receivers seen it cause they were doing like inside one-on-one pass pro. So it was pretty cool to see him.”
It’s a move Grimes admittedly wishes he could mimic but can’t. Yet it’s another skill that has Cox standing out to Swain.
“His get off is just—it’s the get off. Gets off the ball so fast and kinda shocks you. Really ain’t expecting it then he comes off spinning,” laughs Swain.
"He moves kinda like a receiver…you can kinda tell he’s more seasoned than some guys. So I think he’ll do pretty good.”
A quick jump off the block is arguably one of a rushing linebackers greatest assets. Coupled with Grantham’s penchant for blitzing, Cox’s 6’4” frame could easily fit into the aggressive scheme. First though, he’ll have to be allowed to play.
Bylaws implemented in both the NCAA and the Southeastern Conference would indicate Cox will have to sit out a year—a residence year as it’s called—while in school at Florida before being allowed to play a snap for the Gators. He can practice and be with the team during this time; he just can’t play.
No matter what you think your chances might be though, the first course of action is to always apply for a waiver, asking to be granted immediate eligibility. Head coach Dan Mullen says the Gators will “definitely” be applying in Cox’s case.
“We feel good about it, of having him be able to play. I think you look at all the previous scenarios that are out there around the country, we feel we have a good opportunity.”
As the transfer portal has become part and parcel with college football, the scenarios Mullen mentions have increased ten-fold. When as recent as three to four years ago, the NCAA was prone to deny any and every request, they have recently loosened the hold. This has come with its fair share of criticism since the governing body has elected to grant waivers for some cases where little hardship or reasoning existed for the player other than seemingly being unhappy with their current team; then turning around and denying waivers like that for Luke Ford, who left Georgia for Illinois in order to play closer to home since his grandparents health is ailing. Or that of Brock Hoffman, who left Coastal Carolina to attend Virginia Tech and be closer to his mother after she had a brain tumor removed. The NCAA denied the latter because the Hoffman home is five miles outside the 100-mile radius that the NCCA (oft hypocritically) says they honor for hardship waivers.
Despite the confounding whims of the NCAA, the perpetuity to now grant waivers to most all seeking them, leaves Mullen feeling confident enough to say publicly he feels they will smile favorably on Cox and the Gators.
The biggest question though will come with the waiver that must also be filed with the SEC (which is the same waiver, just to a different body). The league has strict guidelines for intra-conference transferring with the main office known to rely on recommendations from the school and/or head coach of the team which a player is leaving. Meaning feasibly, UGA head coach Kirby Smart could block the waiver. In the past Smart could have gone as far as blocking the transfer but the league has loosened up their policies in recent years. Well, loosened up comparatively.
The official SEC bylaws state that a waiver for the year in residence is granted for students who are leaving a school that is facing a post season ban and for graduate transfers. Any others must abide by the NCAA exceptions. The latter don’t list a situation that would seem to encompass Cox and therefore could give the league a reasonable explanation for a denial. However if the NCAA, abiding by the same criteria, grants a waiver, it will be more difficult—though not impossible or unheard of—for the SEC to say no.
A lot of it will depend on the intricacies of Cox’s argument, of which Mullen isn’t willing to share at this time.
“We’re not going to get into that part of it; we’re doing, gonna do it how we do it, do it through the NCAA, it’s not something we’re gonna try to play out publicly to influence anything one way or the other. We’re gonna just go through the channels and do it the right way.”
Whether Brenton Cox Jr. will play with the Gators in the 2019 season or if he will have to wait until 2020, the future looks bright for a guy who Mullen sees fitting right in with the roster.
"As soon as he went in, they reached out. Some of the players reached out and said he had called some of the players to ask about us…with what he knew of the guys on the team it was a good fit for him talking to guys on our team with how our program is run and what we do and how that would fit him.”
Adds Grimes, “At the end of the day business is business and we’re gonna embrace him, love him like a brother and that’s what he is to us now, he’s a brother. At the end of the day he’s on our team now and we look forward to having him and we’re gonna embrace him just like anybody else.”