February 28, 2013 9:52:05 AM
Versatility is Jimmy Cockrell's calling card.
Whether it's on defense or offense or on the football field or the baseball field, Cockrell has been a constant in the starting lineup the past three seasons for the Columbus High School football and baseball teams.
On Wednesday, Cockrell hard work in both areas was rewarded when he signed a scholarship to play football at East Central Community College in Decatur.
Even though he was a mainstay in the secondary for three years at Columbus, Cockrell said his best chance to earn playing time at ECCC could be as a slot receiver on offense. He said the opportunity to earn playing time as a freshman was his primary motivation for singing with ECCC.
"I did want to play slot receiver," Cockrell said. "I knew I would have a chance to play that position, and to do it well."
Cockrell said he isn't motivated by individual accolades, which is why he didn't mind not playing offense. He feels his combination of speed, quickness, an ability to read the action, and anticipation helped him have success in the secondary and to be an anchor Columbus coach Tony Stanford could count on.
Stanford said Cockrell, a 5-foot-9, 165-pounder, has earned a chance to play football in college. He said Cockrell, who has been a three-year starter in the secondary for the Falcons, played a dual role this season as cornerback/safety on defense and as a wire receiver on offense. He feels Cockrell's defensive acumen will help him on the offensive side of the ball at the next level. Cockrell also handled punt and kick returns for Columbus.
Cockrell had 18 catches for 258 yards and a touchdown. He also tied for the team lead with Quan Latham with four interceptions. He had 18 punt returns for 22 yards and three kick returns for 60 yards. All told, he had three touchdowns.
"He was pretty well rounded the whole year for us," Stanford said. "I hate to seen what we could have done if we would have put him in full time on offense because when we put him in the ballgame stuff started clicking.
"He is a very versatile player. I wish we could have seen everything he could have done on offense. He was willing to do whatever it took to do for the ballclub. That's good when you have an athlete like that. He didn't fuss about what he had to do. He was always there ready to go."
Stanford said Cockrell filled in at safety when classmate Latham was injured. He said Cockrell fit in just like a "center fielder," which is appropriate because Cockrell plays that position on the Columbus High baseball team. Cockrell said he probably won't try to play baseball at ECCC. Still, he said he said he is eager to show his versatility at the next level, especially after starting his football career as a running back. He started playing cornerback and wide receiver as a ninth-grader.
Cockrell said his signing is the realization of a life-long goal.
"It is kind of like going after a dream," Cockrell said. "I kind of wondered and doubted (if he would get a chance to play in college). I am going to be kind of far away from home, but the real point is going and getting an education and playing ball.
"It will be a challenge because I am not that big, but I think I can do it. I will just have to adapt to the level of competition."
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.
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