December 24, 2010 6:29:00 AM
WEST POINT -- Justin Cox couldn''t have envisioned his high school football career ending any better.
The West Point High School quarterback, a Mississippi State commitment, secured a second straight state title with a 21-3 win against Brookhaven on Dec. 4.
In two seasons as starting quarterback, Cox guided the Green Wave to a 28-2 record and an unquestioned status as the gold standard for Class 5A.
Cox rushed for 1,274 yards and 17 touchdowns and threw for 1,131 yards and nine more scores to earn The Dispatch Large Schools All-Area Football Team''s Most Valuable Player.
"It''s really special," Cox said. "I like to think I work the hardest at what I do. I knew I had to step up and be a leader this year."
Cox and running back Lakenderic Thomas were the most experienced players to return to the offense this season.
West Point had replace four starting offensive linemen and wideout Michael Carr, who is at MSU.
In addition, the team lost defensive lineman Curtis Virges and a slew of defensive backs from the 2009 state title squad.
As quarterback, Cox needed to take his leadership to a new level if the Green Wave hoped to make it back to Jackson, much less win the division.
"When Mike (Carr) was here, the biggest thing he told me was to be humble," Cox said. "Being able to win a state title, you got to do that. As a freshman, we won the Big Six championship, so from that point I worked to keep winning titles.
"Winning a state title as a junior was great, but you don''t want to go out as a senior without another trophy."
West Point coach Chris Chambless said he doesn''t have to say much to his team about working hard in the wake of so much success. The same goes for Cox, who naturally assumed the team''s captaincy.
"As with any team, you go as far as your seniors go," Chambless said. "(Cox) grew in his leadership and confidence and did a lot better job of running the team and running the offense. He got better in mechanics, and our coaches did a good job of working with his throwing every day. Justin became very efficient, which is big for a team that throws it eight times a game."
While Cox improved in the passing game, he made his living on the ground. He closed the playoffs with three straight 100-yard rushing games, including a 138-yard, two-touchdowns effort in the Class 5A title win against Brookhaven.
Cox paced a West Point ground game that finished with 325 rushing yards. He also completed both of his passes for 19 yards.
"It really started with the (North State title game) win over Ridgeland," Cox said. "The way we won that game (47-0), we knew we were playing the best football we had this season. That was really where the motivation started. Me and my teammates just carried that to Jackson."
Cox will turn his attention to improving his grades and staying in shape for his first year of college football.
Cox will sign his National Letter of Intent to play football at MSU in February and is set to join former West Point teammates Carr and Virges in Starkville.
Cox, who started at cornerback as a sophomore, will make a full-time switch to defensive back in college.
"Justin, hands down, is an unbelievable athlete," said Chambless, who noted Cox''s sub-4.4 speed in the 40-yard dash. "The coaches at MSU will help him with his technique and help him adjust. I don''t think it will be an overwhelming move for him."
Cox will compete in the 100 meters and in the triple jump for West Point High''s track and field team. He owns a personal-best of 11.07 seconds in the 100.
1. McQuary, Rooker lead MSU past Ole Miss COLLEGE SPORTS
2. Starkville High's Mattox receives Gatorade award HIGH SCHOOL SPORTS
3. International flavor works for MSU men's tennis team COLLEGE SPORTS
4. Errors cost Heritage Academy in Game 1 of playoffs HIGH SCHOOL SPORTS
5. MSU men's golf coach Homan announces retirement COLLEGE SPORTS