- Craig Haubert, ESPN Staff Writer
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Editor's note: Since this story was originally published Tuesday morning, Fletcher Cox has since verbally committed to Mississippi State.
Fletcher Cox, 6-foot-4, 235 pounds
ESPN 150 Watch List defensive end
Yazoo City (Miss.) High School
Nestled about 40 miles northwest of Jackson in the heart of Mississippi lies Yazoo City, a little-known small town of about 1,400 experiencing a football recruiting explosion. Before speedy, explosive Yazoo City running back Desmond Johnson signed with Southern Miss in February, there hadn't been a player from that school signing with a Division I program since 1975 according to coach Tony Woolfolk.
But with one in the books, this small town seems to be on a hot streak. Now the Indians have another prospect garnering serious interest from Division I programs. Defensive end Fletcher Cox already is closing in on double-digit offers, and his build and speed are intriguing recruiters. Due to injuries and a lack of previous Division I talent at Yazoo City High, the recruitment of Johnson moved slow as he flew under the radar. But Cox's recruitment has heated up recently. While Cox is extremely talented, his early interest is due in part to his teammate breaking the ice.
"When people started coming to see Desmond they used to ask 'Who is this guy blocking?' And then they would see him on the defensive side and say man this kid is all over the field," Woolfolk said. "That was the whole key, recruiters were looking at Desmond, but [Cox] was such a standout guy."
With the interest that his teammate was getting, Cox knew that his chance to catch recruiters attention was there.
"I knew if the scouts were watching (Johnson), they were also watching the whole team," Cox said.
Cox's speed is part of what stood out to recruiters. At about 6-foot-4 and 240 pounds, he has been timed at a 4.47 in the 40. That may seem a little tough to believe, but the defensive end runs on the high school's 4-by-100 and 4-by-200 meter relay teams with Johnson. Cox, who started playing football in eighth grade, took up track this year.
"It surprises a lot of people that a big guy like me is able to run on a relay team," Cox said.
Woolfolk points out Cox needs to keep working on his technique, but he will also tell you the rising prospect is one of the best he has ever coached.
"He is one of the best athletes because he does not ever come off the field," Woolfolk said. "He plays offense, defense, he is going to snap the ball on punts, and is going to be on punt returns. He is just a phenomenal athlete."
It did not take long for his coaches to see they had a special talent. Despite the long drought of D-I talent, Cox says his freshman year his coaches were telling him he would play Division I football.
The film of Cox and the praise of his coach make it easy to see why recruiters are making return trips -- and in larger numbers -- to the small Mississippi town. With plenty of time to go in his recruitment, Cox points to Mississippi State as a team that really interests him. With summer approaching, the speedy defensive end plans to hit camps at Alabama, Ole Miss and Southern Miss.
Cox's Scouts Inc. Evaluation
Yazoo City produced a speedy sleeper at running back in the 2008 class and once again this high school has another prospect to keep an eye on in defensive end Cox. He is a tall, lean-looking defender who is productive. He looks on film to have the frame to keep adding good bulk as he enters a college weight program.
He is not consistent and you would like to see him crowd the line of scrimmage more, but he flashes good quickness off the ball. He has the ability to quickly get into a gap and get penetration. Will flash the ability to come off the ball and shoot his hands. Would like to see him create more initial separation, but once engaged he keeps his weapons busy and does a good job of being able to shed. Plays with solid pad level and displays the ability to fire off the ball low, make contact, and generate power from the hips. He does a solid job at the point of attack, but mainly relies on his speed and quickness to defeat blockers.
He has an upright running style, but he can move. He can get in on plays all over the field and takes smart angles in pursuit. He is a good wrap-up tackler. He has good short-area change-of-direction skills. Crowding the ball may help him to be more of a speed rushing threat, but you do not see him just run by as many blockers as you might think. He does do a good job of working to half-a-man and turning the corner. Will flash the ability to throw a rip move, follow through, and separate.
He needs to keep working to develop passing rushing moves but displays the tools to be a good pass-rushing threat. We like him the more we watch him. He has good size and speed and could develop into a very productive player at the college level.