IOWA CITY, Ia. – Adam Cox is a humble, soft-spoken walk-on from rural Illinois who doesn’t play for fame but loves the game of football.
“It just feels good being in there making a difference,” the Hawkeye fullback said. “When somebody notices it, that’s fine. And if they don’t, that’s fine, too. As long as we’re winning.”
Iowa’s rebound of a football season continues Friday in front of 87,000 fans at Nebraska’s Memorial Stadium in the Heroes Game. Cox will be the guy in uniform No.38, the Hawkeyes’ unsung hero.
“I always joke, nobody cares who the right or left guard is,” Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said. “Guards are anonymous. Fullbacks probably even moreso in that regard. Yet you can’t play without them.”
At least at Iowa, you can’t. Fullbacks have gone the way of the dinosaur at many schools, where pass-happy attacks play with empty backfields. Ferentz, who has taken a more vanilla approach to 11 bowl games in 15 seasons, still considers fullback an important role.
Especially a no-nonsense fullback like Cox, a 5-foot-11, 228-pound sophomore who relishes pad-to-pad collisions.
“Back home we were a physical football team,” said Cox, whose Stillman Valley High School team won a state title and went 27-1 his final two seasons. “That’s why I like Iowa football.”
In Cox and Macon Plewa, Ferentz has a two-headed monster of a fullback filling the role vacated by another former walk-on, Mark Weisman, who was moved to tailback last season out of necessity. All three are roommates.
“They’re probably as good a set of fullbacks as we’ve ever had,” Ferentz said.
Against Michigan, one of college football’s blueblood programs, Cox played the game of his college career Saturday. Michigan’s starting defense included six four-star recruits according to Rivals.com, and five three-star recruits.
Cox passed on an opportunity to play for Division III power Wisconsin-Whitewater. But on Iowa’s fourth-quarter, game-tying drive against Michigan, there he was, starring in a key Big Ten Conference showdown.
Mr. Anonymous played a huge role in a key three-play sequence:
It started on a fourth-and-1 play from the Michigan 24. With Cox as the lead blocker, Weisman gained four yards. After the play, Weisman smacked Cox in the helmet. Cox returned the favor.
On the next play, quarterback Jake Rudock connected with Cox on a screen pass for 11 yards.
Weisman then covered the last 9 yards to the end zone as Cox cleaned out Michigan linebacker Ben Gedeon with a crushing block.
“We’ve watched the play a couple of times,” Weisman said. “I love it when the fullbacks are out there doing great things.”
Mike Lalor watched, too. He was Cox’s coach at Stillman Valley.
“Very, very impressive,” Lalor said.
Lalor already knew what Ferentz and his staff is learning now. Kids like Cox, in his third year in the Iowa program, are the reason he loves to coach.
“I was just hoping he’d get an opportunity,” Lalor said. “He was arguably the hardest-working kid we ever had here, and probably the most competitive. If he got an opportunity, I was confident that he would do just fine.”
Former Iowa walk-on turned Baltimore Ravens Super Bowl champion Sean Considine, who played in the same high school conference as Cox, helped open the door. Considine made a call to the Iowa staff on Cox’s behalf. Iowa assistant Phil Parker watched some tape and liked what he saw.
The rest, as they say, is history.
Cox admits now that he wondered if that opportunity would lead to playing time at Iowa. He was a running back on the scout team last season, and got punished by guys like linebackers Anthony Hitchens, James Morris and Christian Kirksey.
“I’ve always liked being the guy hitting someone,” Cox said.
If Weisman had not switched, from fullback to halfback, chances are Cox might have gone elsewhere. But he stuck it out. And now he’s making life miserable for the Michigans of the world.
“He’s paid his dues,” Lalor said. “The fact that he didn’t quit, I think that’s the thing I’m proudest of when I watch him out there, knowing how hard it was for him for a couple of years.”
Cox, who has two carries and three receptions for a total of 60 yards, will continue to thrive in the trenches, where fans don’t see him and coaches and teammates love him.
“Being an unsung player is fine with me,” Cox said. “It’s a team game.”
Rick Brown is a 10-time Iowa Sportswriter of the year and covers Hawkeye football for the Register. Follow him on Twitter: @ByRickBrown
Category: Iowa Hawkeyes Football