BOONE — Marcus Cox is on the verge of making Appalachian State football history.
The App State senior running back needs just 717 yards rushing to break Kevin Richardson’s all-time program record of 4,804 rushing yards. It’s a record that has stood since 2007 when Richardson helped the Mountaineers win their third FCS national championship, capping a 13-2 record with a 49-21 victory over Delaware.
Cox has seen his share of ups and downs at App State. He has gained more than 1,000 yards in each of his seasons with the Mountaineers, but settled for second-team all-Sun Belt Conference, despite gaining 1,423 yards and scoring nine touchdowns and despite missing a full game against Idaho.
Cox is very aware just how close he is to Richardson’s record and also appreciates the impact of it. Yet, he’s not necessarily driven by it. Cox feels if he works with the rest of the offense, it will eventually happen.
“I feel that everybody who gets a college scholarship — they want to be in the record book,” Cox said. “Realistically, it doesn’t happen for most people. Just to be close to it is an honor and a blessing. If I get it, I’ll share it with my teammates and my family and friends. I just got to take it one day at a time and not let it consume me and not think about it too much. I just have to go out there and play my game and when it comes, it comes.”
Appalachian State head coach Scott Satterfield has coached both running backs, having been the quarterbacks coach during Richardson’s four-year App State career, and being the head coach for Cox the past three seasons. He said there are a lot of similarities between the two backs, none that are more important than the longevity of both backs.
“No. 1, when you talk about the both of those guys, it’s durability,” Satterfield said. “You’re not going to be able to get out there and carry the ball that many times if you’re not durable. Marcus, so far, has been pretty durable over the course of his career and, of course, Kevin was as well.”
Satterfield added that both have gained their yardage without having 4.3 speed.
“They’re very similar in the fact that they are not speedsters,” Satterfield said. “They’re not burners on the football field, but they are always seem to fall forward. If you have a bunch of carries and you’re falling forward for an extra two or three yards, it adds up over the course of a career.”
Cox said there’s more to his game than just running the football. He credits several factors to his rushing totals, starting with his offensive line.
Appalachian State has four offensive linemen returning on a team that allowed the Mountaineers’ offense to average 271.5 rushing yards per game in 2015. The Mountaineers return left guard Parker Collins, right guard Jamie Collmar, who went to guard when Colby Gossett was moved to right tackle from right guard to replace injured right tackle Beau Nunn, who has moved to the left tackle this season.
App State graduated left tackle Davante Harris and center Jesse Chapman, who was the Mountaineers’ Offensive Most Valuable Player his senior season. He’s been replaced by Tobais Edge-Campbell.
“It all starts up front,” Cox said. “It all starts with the offensive line. We’ve got some big guys up front who can move, which helps with the zone scheme.”
Cox also credits the other three running backs — Upshaw, Jalin Moore and Josh Boyd — who allow Cox to play hard without getting tired. Cox had 30 carries for 140 yards in the Mountaineers’ triple overtime win over Troy, but also had just 11 carries for 101 yards in the Mountaineers’ 49-0 blowout of Howard in week one of the season.
Cox had more than 20 carries in seven of the Mountaineers’ 13 games in 2015, including 24 carries for 162 yards and a touchdown in App State’s 31-29 Camellia Bowl win over Ohio.
But that was not the most yards an App State running back gained in one game in 2015. Moore, starting in Cox’s absence because of an injury, gained 244 yards on 27 carries in a win over Idaho.
“There’s not just myself,” Cox said. “There’s Jalin Moore, Terrance Upshaw, Josh Boyd — there are a lot of guys who could get in who can make plays. I feel we complemented each other real well. We’ve got a good group of running backs and a good line that goes together.”
Cox also has quarterback Taylor Lamb, who has emerged as a running and passing threat. Lamb finished with 436 yards and five touchdowns rushing to go with 2,387 yards and 31 touchdowns against nine interceptions passing.
But Cox is the first option opposing defenses are likely to target when it comes to containing the Mountaineers’ offense. He knows it, but doesn’t feel that the Mountaineers should make any drastic changes in philosophy when it comes to moving the football.
“By the end of the day, we have to stick to our game plan and I feel like it will work,” Cox said. “We’ve got young receivers, but they’re going to step up and make plays. We’ve also got a quarterback in Taylor Lamb, who can also take over the game or control the game. Even if I have a bad game or if I have a good game, I feel like we complement each other real well running the pass game. We’re about 50-50 last year in the run and in the pass, so I feel we have a balanced offense. If guys do try to key on the run, I feel we can definitely beat them with the pass.”
Cox, a Dacula, Ga., native (located about 50 miles northeast of Atlanta), chose Appalachian State after being recruited by several programs, including Elon, Middle Tennessee State, Ohio, Georgia Southern and Georgia State. He was a running back and receiver in high school, so when he got to App State, he was considered an athlete.
It was Appalachian State’s 35-27 win over Montana in 2012, in front of a packed crowd at Kidd Brewer Stadium, that got Cox’s attention. It was the family atmosphere with the program that made him stay.
Former running backs coach Chris Foster and current recruiting coordinator Scott Sloan played big roles in bringing Cox to Appalachian State.
“I came up here for the Montana game,” Cox said. “In that game, I really loved the atmosphere. So, I came back for a couple of more games and I felt like this is where I’m supposed to be. I have a great relationship with coach Foster at the time and coach Sloan, so halfway through my senior year I committed for some official visits.”
He already knew how to run the ball in high school. He also knows how to catch it after playing receiver for two seasons.
What he did not know how to do is pass blocking. Instead of trying to avoid tacklers, suddenly in college, Cox had to keep them off his quarterback.
“In high school, I really didn’t do that much pass blocking,” Cox said. “In college, that was big for me to work on my pass blocking. I feel like I do a pretty good job of it keeping Taylor off the ground. I still have a lot to work on. We all take pride in protecting our quarterbacks, and I take big pride in blitz pickups and knowing what I’ve got to do each and every play.”
Four years later, Cox is on time to earn his degree in business management. He would like to be on the business end of a professional sports franchise, not necessarily coaching, but on the administrative side, such as a general manager or an athletic director.
That might have to wait. Cox would like to get a shot at an NFL career before working off the field.
“I definitely have dreams to make it to the league,” he said. “Hopefully, I’m close enough to make it. People ask me all the time if I have a specific team I’d like to play for. To me, I really don’t have a specific team. I just want to say I made it one day.”
With some effort, help from his teammates and a little luck, Cox will make history at Appalachian State.