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Northern Valley's Cox makes move to lineman

By CONOR NICHOLL

cnicholl@dailynews.net

ALMENA -- Junior Brant Cox is 5-foot-9, 143 pounds and has always played end during his Almena-Northern Valley High School football career. Last week, he moved to guard when senior Ian Vincent, a four-year starter at 6-foot, 226 pounds, suffered a season-ending ankle injury in the second half. Cox was simply asked to block after he replaced Vincent.

However, Cox received a crash course in guard play this past week in the Huskies' Midway-Denton offense full of fakes, misdirections, trapping and pulling. The week was busy and stressful, but Cox enjoyed the challenge.

"Had to keep my head on straight," Cox said.

Cox, who also stepped in for Vincent at linebacker and long-snapped, worked on guard play and long-snapping after practice with his dad, Brad, a former Northern Valley standout, collegiate player and current Husky assistant coach.

"He knows football well," Brant Cox said.

Last Friday, Cox stepped up at all three positions, especially offensively, in a much-needed 70-24 home district victory against Natoma. He opened holes for a season best in points, 43 carries for 322 rushing yards and seven rushing scores.

The Huskies now rank seventh in Eight-Man Division II with 278 points (46.3 points per game). Northern Valley averages 301 rushing yards per contest and 372 total yards per game. It ranks fifth in the classification in rushing yards and seventh in total yards, according to maxpreps.com.

"He is about 100 pounds less, but he is just so much faster," senior running back Jordan Baird said. "It's just amazing how much faster and lower he is. It's kind of just a tradeoff, just a different kind of style. He is a really good guard."

Senior quarterback Hunter Chandler tossed two touchdown passes and was never sacked. Cox made four tackles and had no issues snapping.

"Brant knew he had to step up and he did a really good job," Chandler said. "He is smart, and he learned the plays in a week, and he stepped up."

Northern Valley had a difficult first five weeks, but played its best game of the season to move to 3-3, 1-1 district play. Natoma dropped to 4-2, 1-2.

"We had a lot of odds against us, but we got fired up for Homecoming and we just felt like we really needed a win tonight," Cox said.

The Huskies face 1-5 Stockton on Friday before a huge home contest in Week 8 against Kensington-Thunder Ridge. Likely, the winner of that game will make the playoffs and the loser will be done.

"He does a real good job," coach Chuck Fessenden said of Cox. "We are giving up a lot of size. What we gave up in size, we gained in quickness, so he is going to have a hard time handling a big kid, if he gets a big kid over him, but he does a good job. In our offense, you have got to pull and trap, and he does pretty good with that."

Northern Valley carries just 18 players, but does have some depth at end with three players. Junior end Clint Cole missed last week with a concussion, but was able to go Friday. With Cole back, Northern Valley had all three ends and was able to move Cox.

"Otherwise, we have to go to one of our JV kids and we don't feel like they are quite ready, but they did play pretty good Monday night," Fessenden said. "That's why we went with that. He is our next best athlete."

Defensively, Cox had played linebacker the last two years. This season, Cox practices linebacker and defensive back. Northern Valley slants its defensive line and the linebacker has certain responsibilities.

"We don't have to handle a guard head up," Fessenden said. "As long as they don't have a great big running back, he is a pretty good tackler, he will take people low and will get them down."