How Brenton Cox earned No. 1 before ever playing a down at Florida
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How Brenton Cox earned No. 1 before ever playing a down at Florida

Florida OLB Brenton Cox Jr.
Florida OLB Brenton Cox Jr. (Kevin Camps/UAA Communications)

Brenton Cox Jr. is one of the most highly anticipated players to suit up for the Gators in recent years.

The former five-star recruit transferred to Florida last August after spending his freshman season at Georgia. He wowed teammates his first week in Gainesville, with players raving about his get-off and pass rush moves.

“He’s phenomenal,” receiver Trevon Grimes said of Cox at the time. “He actually has some move that I’ve never seen before.”

Cox had to sit out last year due to NCAA transfer rules, but continued to generate buzz with his impressive play in practice. The suspense for his debut was heightened last month when he revealed his jersey number for the 2020 season.

“Anxious to represent the #UnoFam this season!” Cox tweeted after revealing the news on social media.

The No. 1 jersey has a rich history at UF, with elite players such as Percy Harvin, Reggie Nelson and Keiwan Ratliff donning the number. Gators coach Dan Mullen didn’t assign it to anyone prior to his first season.

"You've got to be a baller to be No. 1,” Mullen said in May 2018. “I don't know if anybody's done enough.”

That changed last fall, with Mullen awarding the number to cornerback C.J. Henderson and wide receiver Kadarius Toney. They were the first players to wear it since Vernon Hargreaves III in 2015.

Hargreaves started out with 16 as a freshman, but received No. 1 after just one game. Harvin even wore No. 8 for a whole season before he became numero uno.

So how did Cox pull this coveted and prestigious jersey before ever playing a down at Florida?

“Well, there’s a lot of things you do within our program,” defensive coordinator Todd Grantham said. “It’s not always about on the field.”

For Cox, the work he put in off the field — particularly in the classroom — allowed him to make the switch from No. 6. Mullen said his GPA has been above 3.0 every semester.

“It’s about your grades,” Grantham said. “I’ve been really pleased with the guy’s attitude in the classroom. He takes care of his business, has a really high GPA and has worked his tail off to be in the position he is now.

“You really pull for guys like that when they put that much into it. And generally speaking, the all-in investment — and what I mean by all-in is from an academic, academic and social standpoint — those are the kind of things that allow you to get that kind of number.”

“Brenton is great,” added linebacker Jeremiah Moon. “He comes with his hard hat to work every day, so that's what he did (to earn No. 1). He came, he put his head down, learned what he had to learn and performed. That's all you have to do.”

Cox, an Under Armour All-American in high school, was the nation’s No. 2 strongside defensive end and No. 33 overall recruit in the Class of 2018. Some players can let rankings like that go to their head, but linebackers coach Christian Robinson hasn’t seen that attitude from Cox.

“I can tell you what I've noticed since he's been here. He's a guy that came into a new challenge, but I never saw him complain,” Robinson said. “He was on the scout team last year as a guy that was highly recruited as he was, and to have a change in school and come here and not really act like he deserved anything.

“He just worked. And that’s something I see every day from him. He’s a quiet kid, but he just goes about his business.”

Mullen was confident with Cox’s chances of receiving a waiver last season, but the NCAA didn’t grant him eligibility. Despite the frustration and uncertainty surrounding his application process, Cox’s work ethic never subsided with his playing status in limbo.

“He did nothing but work,” Mullen said. “Really worked hard in the offseason program. Missed a spring ball, but has worked hard going through our walk-throughs, learning the defense in the practices every day.

“I do have really high expectations for him. … He's a good player. We play guys at a lot of different positions and he could go everywhere. He's a pretty versatile guy.”

Cox is expected to take over at BUCK for Jonathan Greenard, a first-team All-SEC selection who led the league in sacks and tackles for loss. The 6-foot-4, 247-pound Cox will also play strongside defensive end in certain packages, and Robinson revealed that he's been taking some reps at linebacker.

“Oh yeah, He's got a lot of ability,” said Robinson, who played under Grantham at UGA. “I’ve played with a lot of guys who played for Coach Grantham that were dynamic, guys that could really change the game.

“If [Cox] puts it together in the way I believe he can, people will take notice of him and want to know where he's at on the field all the time. … That's something I’m looking forward to, just let him go play this fall.”

What can fans expect from Cox? His playing style differs from Greenard and is more similar to former BUCK starter Jachai Polite, according to Florida left tackle Stone Forsythe.

“We go at it every day. He’s one of them speed rushers that can change it up,” he said of Cox. “He's a great pass rusher, he has a bunch of different moves.

“It's a little different than what we've been seeing in the past with [Jabari] Zuniga and Greenard. He kind of reminds me a little bit of Jachai, just with that speed and the get-off.”

Cox doesn’t remind Grantham of anyone he’s coached before.

“Brenton’s kind of a guy on his own, man,” he said. “The thing I like about the guy is he likes to play ball. He’s a really hard worker in practice. He’s done a good job of working to develop some fundamentals that I think he needed to work on for him to be successful moving forward.

“I think as he develops those things, it will allow him to be the kind of player he wants to be. I’m just pleased with the guy’s work ethic, his demeanor and really glad he’s on our team.”