VERDIGRIS — There was a time when Peyton Cox was a shy introvert. The Verdigris senior avoided certain sports and situations because coaches tended to scream at athletes and he wanted to avoid the criticism. Not anymore.
Cox said playing football produced a tougher persona. He’s transformed into a stronger, more confident warrior for the Cardinals, whether running the ball or slamming opponents from his linebacker position.
“I’ve matured and I can handle it,’’ Cox said of coaches yelling at him. “It was probably my perspective on how I can’t put myself down. I’ve got to try harder and analyze what I’m doing wrong.’’
Verdigris coach Travis East said the versatility of his prized pupil leaves little to be desired. At 6-foot-1, 180 pounds, Cox led the Cardinals with 494 rushing yards through five games while adding 110 receiving and 133 on kickoff returns.
A three-year starter defensively, Cox led in tackles with 57 through a 2-5 start to the season, including seven sacks, six tackles for loss and one interception.
“He has a nose for the football, naturally. He is a hard hitter,’’ East said. “As a runner, he is more of a power runner. He has strength all the way around and does a lot of work with weights.’’
Apparently, Cox has both brains and brawn. He possesses a 3.2 grade point average and can bench press 250 pounds and dead lift 480. Cox, who is a goalkeeper on the Verdigris soccer team, hopes to play football in college and become a marine biologist.
Southwestern Kansas, Southern Nazarene, Oklahoma Baptist, Missouri Southern and Northeastern State have shown interest in his defensive ability.
“I like playing defense better because I get to hit people. It hurts a lot less than getting hit,’’ said Cox, whose sister Jordan plays softball for the Lady Cardinals. “Defensively I can see more of everything and it comes more naturally. I’ve been a linebacker all my life and didn’t become a running back until the eighth or ninth grade.
“As a running back I love getting the ball instead of blocking somebody. I don’t have the hands for a receiver. I’m a downhill runner, I don’t go side to side. I like trap plays and my goal is to have a high handoff ratio. I get 10.5 yards per carry and just try and run my hardest.’’
It seems Cox is a jack of all trades on an athletic field. Pass rushing is his defensive passion and he said he was the No. 2 tackler in all of Class 3A as a junior. As a soccer goalkeeper he said his strong natural ability and sense of where the ball is works wonders for the Cardinals, who won the state title two seasons ago.
Cox has become one of school’s athletic mainstays and tries to lead by his actions. One of his most memorable achievements was scoring a 60-yard touchdown against Adair as a freshman. That one moment played a major role in Cox’s mental growth and development. So did working out with his dad last summer.
“We worked out with a strength training regimen,’’ he said. “My dad (Mark Cox) and I went to the Claremore Recreation Center and he was my personal coach. Dad played football at Catoosa and Broken Arrow and in college at Southeastern State.’’
East can see the benefits in Cox’s offseason dedication.
“His mental capacity for the game has gotten better and his reaction times are faster,’’ the coach said. “He’s really come around on the concepts we do offensively and defensively. He’s improved and he’s grasping even more about the game.’’
It’s all part of Cox’s maturation process and his determination to become the best he can be on a football field.