12/13/08 — North Duplin's Cox has nose for end zone

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North Duplin's Cox has nose for end zone

By Ryan Hanchett
Published in Sports on December 13, 2008 11:33 PM

Akeem Cox's game isn't about numbers. It's not about accolades. It's certainly not about searching out superlatives.

Instead Cox keeps things simple. He runs the football and finds the end zone.

During his senior season at North Duplin, the offensive spark plug scored 20 touchdowns. He emerged the area's leading rusher and helped the Rebels return to the N.C. High School Athletic Association Class 1-A (small-school) playoffs.

For his efforts, Cox is the 2008 News-Argus All-Area Offensive Player-of-the-Year.

"Aside from the numbers, Akeem is a young man that developed into a leader for us," said third-year Rebels head coach Hugh Martin. "His vision and his ability to read the offensive line are fantastic."

Cox rambled for 1,729 yards and an eye-popping 296 carries despite nagging aches and pains. A sore back plagued Cox throughout practices. Knee and ankle issues arose as the season progressed.

"The back was a problem early in the fall," said Martin. "But no matter what was bothering him, he just wanted to keep pushing through it. He wanted to keep taking the ball."

One such instance came against Carolina 1-A Conference rival Princeton during the Rebels' stretch run.

After being bottled up for the better part of three quarters, Cox finally broke loose for a 43-yard run into Bulldog territory. At the end of the play, a Princeton defender rolled up on his ankle and forced Cox to the sideline.

One play later, Devon Oliver scored the go-ahead touchdown.

With his team clinging to a slim lead in the game's final minutes, Cox had a decision to make. Sit back or step up.

He rose to the occasion.

"I had to come back, I had to show that I wasn't going to back down from anybody," reminisced Cox. "I knew my role."

Cox scored an insurance touchdown with two minutes to play and in the process helped turn the Rebels' season around.

"That win was huge for us, it completely changed the momentum," said Martin. "Akeem is such a resilient runner, teams knocked him down and hit him and he just kept coming back."

Along with pure toughness, Martin also noted improved strength as the keys to Cox's success this season.

"His legs are incredibly strong and he finishes runs," said Martin. "He power-cleans about 260 pounds and considering he weighs about 160, that's impressive."

Martin hopes that some of Cox's work ethic and ability to find the holes in the defense rub off on Oliver.

"I know that Akeem has really helped Devon understand what we are trying to do on offense," said Martin. "We don't necessarily have a set hole for each play to run through and that makes the runners' vision a big key to our success.

"It's something that young backs have to learn."

Even with all of his on-field success casting a spotlight on his physical ability, Cox knows that one of the keys to possibly playing at the next level is strengthening his mind.

"Right now, I am lifting and trying to gain a little weight," said Cox. "But the most important thing is to keep my grades up and stay focused."

If Cox's high school career on the gridiron is any indication, staying focused should not be a problem.