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Cox opening eyes during spring drills at Michigan State

| Wednesday, April 17, 2013, 9:00 p.m.
Matthew Mitchell | MSU Athletic Communications
Jeannette graduate Demetrious Cox is turning heads at Michigan State.
Matthew Mitchell | MSU Athletic Communications
Demetrious Cox will be a redshirt freshman next fall and is expected to see a lot of playing time.

As Michigan State University concludes its spring football drills this month, one thing is plainly clear: Demetrious Cox is ready to play.

“Oh yeah, I'm so excited,” said Cox, a Jeannette High School graduate who will be a redshirt freshman next season. “I'm ready to get out there. I'd be ready to go tomorrow if that's when the season started.”

Cox arrived at Michigan State as a highly touted recruit last summer, athletic enough to contribute right away. However, the Michigan State coaching staff elected to redshirt the safety last year, like many true freshman.

That enabled him to adjust to college life, gain a year of seasoning in the program all while preserving a year of eligibility.

As Harlon Barnett, the Spartans' defensive backs coach explained, it was tempting at times to “burn the redshirt” and play Cox in games.

“We thought about playing him because we knew he could have contributed,” said Barnett. “But there have been times in the past, with other guys we played as (true) freshmen, we get to the end of their four years and say, ‘I wish we had this guy for another year.'”

Of course the competitor in Cox wanted to be playing last year, but the young athlete understood the decision.

“He was willing to do whatever we wanted to do,” said Barnett. “About halfway through the season, he started to want us to save him so he had four more years, but he said, ‘I'll do whatever. I'll play in that last game if you want me to.' And he meant it.”

The season concluded and Cox, a 6-foot-1, 195-pounder, did not play, preserving the redshirt. Now, with a full year of practices under his belt and four years of eligibility remaining, he's very happy with how it worked out.

“Sitting out was probably one of the hardest things I've had to deal with,” he said. “I sat on the bench probably once since I started playing. It's one of those things, you've gotta take a step back and think about it. It's better for the long-term. Now I see that. Being out there now, knowing what I know, and having four more years, it was the right decision.”

Once the season ended, Cox jumped into Michigan State's winter conditioning program and opened the eyes of many. So much so, in fact, that the coaching staff recognized him with a “bronze jersey” which they give to those players who impress during winter conditioning.

Now, during spring football this year, Cox has continued creating a buzz. One publication even pegged Cox the Spartans' top redshirt freshman to watch entering the 2013 season.

“I can play faster now,” he said. “I know everything we're doing, so instead of thinking, I'm just reacting.”

Cox is currently second team safety and contributing in the Spartans' nickel defense. He's also involved in most of the Spartans' special teams.

“That means he's going to play a lot this season,” said Barnett. “He's doing a good job. One thing about Demetrious, he's a smart kid. He's a good tackler, and he can run.”

Beyond his football abilities, Barnett also raved about the Cox, the young man.

“He's a great kid. He's not a real boisterous kid. He doesn't say a whole lot, at least not around us coaches, but he's not shy either. We play music during practice, and if the right song comes on, he doesn't mind cutting a couple steps and dancing. He's a great young man. His parents and grandma did a great job.”

Cox and Michigan State will play in their annual intrasquad Green and White Spring Game this Saturday at 2:30 p.m. The scrimmage will be broadcast on the Big Ten Network.

Paulone a Wildcat

In spring football closer to home, at Division III Waynesburg, Thomas Paulone is adjusting to a new position that's not so new.

The Jeannette graduate who will be a senior with the Yellow Jackets next season, is back at quarterback. Paulone was a standout dual-threat quarterback with the Jayhawks and spent his first two collegiate seasons as a backup quarterback at Waynesburg.

Last season, however, he was moved to running back partially because Waynesburg was deep at quarterback but also as a way to take advantage of his speed and quickness.

This spring, though, he's back behind center. Specifically, he's in a “slash role” for Waynesburg. He will line up as a slot receiver, in the backfield and especially as a “Wildcat” quarterback.

The plan is for the team to use Paulone to run that package as an offensive change-of-pace.

“It feels good to be back under center in the shotgun taking snaps,” he said. “I definitely have some rust throwing the ball, but our coaches like to put me in motion and run the Wildcat.”

Cortazzo hits as Gannon falls

Jeannette grad Kirstie Cortazzo continued her stellar season, but the Gannon softball team dropped two heart-breaking games in a doubleheader against California (Pa.) on Sunday.

Cortazzo had a total of four hits in the double header, but the Lady Knights dropped both games in the final at-bat, with Cal taking the first game 3-2 and the second game 6-4.

After a near-flawless start to the season, Gannon entered the week with four straight losses and a 19-6 overall record, including a 4-4 mark in the Division II Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference (PSAC) West Division.

Cortazzo, a junior second baseman, is second on the team with a .471 on-base percentage and third on the team with a .411 batting average and .603 slugging percentage.

Brian Knavish is a freelance writer.

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