More and more, college coaches expect early enrollees to make immediate impacts. They don't necessarily have to start, but you don't bring guys in early just to sit and watch.
Especially if they are junior college players.
One of those early enrolling JUCO standouts expected to jump right into the fire this spring is Mississippi State defensive back Justin Cox. He signed with the Bulldogs as a safety, but with both Johnthan Banks and Darius Slay gone, Cox is expected to step right in at cornerback when spring practice starts next week.
And when I say "step right in" I mean it sounds like people in Starkville think one of those cornerback spots is his job to lose. That might sound like a lot of pressure, but JUCO players don't come in to ride the pine. They come in to play early and often, and Cox was brought in to be a starter.
At 6-foot-3 and 190 pounds, he already has great size to matchup with the biggest receivers in the SEC. What is even more impressive is that he wowed teammates and staffers during the early workouts of the year by being one of the team's fastest players.
So, he's 6-3 and has receiver-like speed? That's not intimidating or anything.
Obviously, measurements and speed aren't everything. Cox has to mix in instinct, smarts, toughness and technique, but the early word out of Starkville is that he shouldn't have much trouble showing all of that off once he gets out on the playing field and into game situations.
During his two years at East Mississippi Community College, Cox recorded 11 interceptions and broke up 19 passes. He also racked up 119 tackles, including seven for loss.
To put those interception numbers into perspective, Banks had 12 interceptions in the three years leading up to his Thorpe Award-winning season in 2012. It might be JUCO ball, but that's still pretty impressive.
He's an aggressive player, and the staff is hoping that he's kind of a mixture between Banks and Slay. Banks was a big-play guy, who covered a lot of ground, while Slay was a relentless cover guy.
Certainly, nothing is a given in this sport, but Cox has a lot of responsibility to deal with moving forward, and should be pretty fun to follow heading into the fall.