JACKSON — Xavier Hogan had doubts.
After seeing his junior football season at West Point High School end in disappointment with a first-round loss in the Class 4A North Half State playoffs last year, Hogan wanted to make a stand in his final season.
To do that, though, Hogan and his classmates knew the Green Wave needed to find a dependable quarterback.
An injury to standout Michael Carr forced the Green Wave to go with a less-experienced and less-explosive option at the end of last season. The result was a 13-0 loss to Lafayette.
So Hogan watched with an interested eye in the spring as Justin Cox and Cedric Burns competed for playing time at quarterback.
Months later, Hogan only had to smile as he sat at a gathering for the Mississippi High School Activities Association football state title games at the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame to let people know the Green Wave have their man in Cox.
“Once I saw what kind of quarterback he was and how well he played the position and how good he thought about it and how he made his reads, I became less nervous,” Hogan said.
Cox rushed for three touchdowns, including a 91-yard run in the third quarter that changed the momentum of the game, and threw for another score Friday to lead West Point to a 41-21 victory against New Hope in the Mississippi High School Activities Association Class 5A North Half State title game at Trojan Field.
For his efforts, Cox is The Commercial Dispatch Prep Player of the Week.
Cox rushed for 137 yards on seven carries. He scored on runs of 19, 5, and 91 yards. He connected with Michael Carr on a 22-yard scoring pass to help push West Point (13-1) into the Class 5A state title game against Wayne County at 7 p.m. Saturday at Mississippi Memorial Coliseum in Jackson.
West Point High coach Chris Chambless said Cox had played quarterback a little in junior high school. The experience he gained as a starting cornerback as a sophomore also helped him know what to expect and what to look for when he moved to quarterback.
“He does a good job,” Chambless said. “The first thing is you have to want to do it, and he wants to do it. He has gotten better every week and he is a winner.”
Chambless said the Green Wave lost a potential quarterback when Jamarius Tallie moved away. Tallie moved back to the area, but Chambless said by then it was too late to put Tallie into the mix at quarterback. Tallie had three catches for 30 yards in six games as a wide receiver this season.
Cox has done a little bit of everything to show he is more than capable of running the offense. He is third on the team in rushing (91 carries, 597 yards) for a unit that has piled up 3,822 yards (5.89-yard average per carry) in 14 games.
Cox also has completed 61 of 121 passes for 1,111 yards with 11 touchdowns and five interceptions. His ability to run and to throw has allowed the Green Wave to keep defenses honest when they pack the line of scrimmage in an attempt to stop the running game.
Chambless said Cox is sometimes too hard on himself when he makes mistakes, but that bodes well for the future because it shows he is hungry to improve.
“He has played real well and has a good supporting cast, which always helps,” Chambless said. “The coaches do a good job with him, too. Coach (Lee J.) Grisham and coach (Brett) Morgan do a good job of keeping him under control and teaching him a little bit every week.”
Cox showed flashes of what he could do for West Point on Sept. 11 in a 33-13 victory at Starkville. He rushed for a touchdown and threw for two more to help the Green Wave pile up 269 yards rushing.
“I feel very confident,” Cox said after the game. “I feel my line can block my backs can run, and my receivers can catch. I just feel good about (the offense). I feel we are very close (to putting it together).”
Cox”s performance against New Hope on Friday capped a solid season. The effort — plenty of rushes with a sprinkling of throws — epitomized his season and provided another reason to believe the junior will be ready to handle the state title environment Saturday to help the Green Wave win their sixth state title.
Hogan is confident Cox will do the job, too.
“I think playing cornerback last year really helped him play quarterback this year,” Cox said. “He has a DB mind, so he knows what the DB is going to do before he throws the ball. I think it was hard for him, but he made a good transition.”
n In related news, West Point senior defensive lineman is one of four local players who have been selected to play in the 2009 Alabama-Mississippi All-Star Classic.
Aberdeen High running back Jamerson Love, Noxubee County wide receiver Vincent Sanders, and Louisville wide receiver Markese Triplett also have been selected to the Mississippi team.
Noxubee County coach M.C. Miller will be one of the assistant coaches for the Mississippi team.
The game will be at 12:30 p.m. Saturday (VERSUS) at Ladd-Peebles Stadium in Mobile, Ala.
Adam Minichino is the former Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.
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