Cox finally gets his chance to start for UK

Published 12:26 pm Tuesday, August 31, 2021

He was a three-star recruit with only one Power-Five offer, redshirted his freshman season and then played in eight games in 2020 as a backup to left guard Kenneth Horsey.

However, when Kentucky opens the season Saturday hosting Louisiana Monroe, Eli Cox is going to be the starting right guard.

“College football is just hard in general. Playing in the SEC is a whole different level. It’s the best of the best,” said Cox, a former West Jessamine High School standout. “It just takes time, patience and hard work but I am really excited to get a chance to be part of this.”

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Cox said he never set a specific timeline for when he hoped to be a starter or regular contributor.

“I was not very highly recruited. I did not carry a lot of confidence in myself that I could play and contribute early,” Cox said. “It took time to prepare in the film room and weight room to build confidence in myself.”

He said former UK center Drake Jackson and current UK teammate Luke Fortner helped him a lot the previous two years.

“Drake was really helpful because he would give you tips and pointers you could not pick up except with game experience,” Cox said. “But what helped me more than anything is the weight program here that is one of the best in the country. I am a lot stronger. It’s hard to get stronger and faster but our strength coaches are great.”

The 6-6, 350-pound Cox says he is actually on the “smaller, short” side when compared with other UK offensive lineman. However, new offensive coordinator Liam Coen’s offense emphasizes speed and getting to the edge.

“I can use my athletic ability more which is good because I am not gigantic like some offensive linemen,” Cox said.

During spring practice he was the backup center to Quinton Wilson. That was before Fortner moved from guard to center and left an opening at right guard Cox has now filled.

“The new offensive is just a little more conducive to how I play,” Cox said.

He’s now lined up behind Fortner, a sixth-year player, at center and Darian Kinnard, a three-year starter and returning All-American, at tackle.

“Having them to lean on is a big advantage. They have been there and done that. Right or wrong, they know what to expect,” Cox said. “It’s nice to bounce questions off them. They are both very reliable players and I know they will be there for me.”

New offensive line coach Eric Wolford has also pushed Cox to improve.

“One thing he has told me from the get-go is you have to prove you can play in tough and stressful situations and he puts me in those every practice so Saturdays will be easy,” Cox said. “He takes pride in making practices tougher than games. He makes things very intense. He is all about getting stuff done.”

He knows his parents, Katherine and John Cox, are excited about the opening game. They are UK fans and have always had football season tickets. That’s why he quickly committed to UK after getting an offer and led to no other Power-Five offers.

“They might be more excited than me,” Cox said. “Growing up a UK fan, this is a dream come true not only for me but all of us. I always wanted to play at Kentucky and there was not much to think about once I got the offer. I know this is a big year for us. We have an exciting offense to show and I am really juiced we are going to have fans back in the stadium.”