The All-American Army jersey he held in front of his chest was earned, and the flashbulbs that popped around him were satisfying.
Thursday afternoon's pageantry was part of the payoff for years of hard work .
Lakeside (Ariz.) Blue Ridge linebacker Chans Cox was officially a U.S. Army All-American. His uniform was presented at 1:15 in the afternoon inside his high school's gymnasium.
The moment should have been all about Cox. It was a perfectly understandable time for the four-star high school prospect to bask in individual glory. Nobody would have batted an eye if the Arizona State commit took a bow and thanked "the little people." That stuff is the norm in settings such as this.
But Thursday afternoon was larger than the gym that hosted it. Cox made sure of it. He spun his story as a feather in the cap of Arizona State's new coaching staff. The way he sees it, it was simply a sign of changing times -- a warning shot fired from new head coach Todd Graham.
Before Cox pledged his services to ASU on June 13, it had been nine years since the program landed the Grand Canyon State's top high school player. So when the most celebrated player in Graham's first full recruiting class got his due, so too did a rebuilding program.
"I think this shows Arizona State fans that Todd Graham is going to get good players," said Cox, who chose the Sun Devils over Notre Dame. "It's not just me, either. It's about all the guys of this class. All of the guys who are committed and buying in. People are starting to see that ASU is going to get these highly recruited players."
In the eyes of Sun Devil supporters, the man holding the All-American jersey is the changing of the guard. He's the new hope. He's the new era. It's a role the four-star doesn't mind whatsoever. And so an event usually celebrated as an individual achievement was passed around.
"Arizona State fans have been congratulating me," Cox said. "They all seem genuinely happy for me. It was a big moment, I respect the Army game so much and what the people organizing it do. It was big for me, so it was great to see that everyone was excited. I appreciate that fan base so much."
Of course there were elements of personal achievement at work. The broken foot he's still nursing felt a little better when he took hold of his Army All-American jersey for the first time. The minor injuries that plagued him during the early season mattered not. The ankle sprain that held him back weeks ago? Forgotten. Thursday was as much about the future as it was about the past.
"I can't wait to go prove it at this All-American game against that kind of competition," Cox said. "It's like I'll be proving it for me and for ASU."
Understand that Cox is a bit of an attention-deflector. Always has been. Before Thursday's assembly, he asked a school official to take some of the spotlight off of him by organizing an entire pep rally, only a potion of which would require his involvement. The linebacker got his wish in more ways than one.
The rally was held and others were involved, but the sharing didn't stop there. In the end, Cox got his jersey -- a simple piece of fabric. Arizona State, on the other hand, picked up a victory. Arizona State sent a message.
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