Three-time NCAA wrestling champion and Olympic bronze medalist J’den Cox won’t play football for Missouri next season, a source told The Star.
Instead, Cox accepted a position on Thursday as a volunteer assistant with the Tigers wrestling program, and he will continue to compete in international wrestling competitions.
Cox first hinted at the possibility of joining Mizzou football in late August after returning from the Rio Olympics, where he claimed a freestyle wrestling bronze medal at 86 kilograms.
After wrapping up a third NCAA title at 197 pounds in March, Cox met several times with Tigers football coach Barry Odom, who was receptive to having Cox join the team as a fifth-year senior.
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“I’ve got tremendous respect for him,” Odom said in April after an initial meeting with Cox. “... He’s such a great kid and an unbelievable ambassador for the University of Missouri.”
Cox, who was an all-state prep linebacker at Columbia Hickman High, met with Odom again this week and informed him of his decision to not play football, according to a source.
Per NCAA rules, student-athletes have a five-year window to compete in athletics, but are only allowed to four years of eligibility per sport.
Cox, who did not redshirt in wrestling, remains eligible in all non-wrestling sports for next season, but he’s chosen to focus on training for the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo and help his alma mater keep “Tiger Style” growing on the mats.
“J’den treats the sport of wrestling with great respect and is an amazing student of the sport,” Missouri wrestling coach Brian Smith said in a statement from the program. “He will be a fantastic coach because of the positivity he brings to the mat and his dedication to helping our program reach its full potential.”
Cox, who will train and compete as a member of the Missouri Wrestling Foundation, is scheduled to compete for USA Wrestling June 9-10 during the U.S. Freestyle World Team Trials in Lincoln, Neb.
He’s also eager to try his hand at coaching.
“I’m appreciative of the opportunity to continue my journey with the Mizzou Wrestling program,” Cox said in a release. “I’m thankful they have given me another door to walk through as a coach. I look forward to being able to work with and continue to train with the great wrestlers in our room.”
Cox won his first national title as a freshman, but he struggled with weight fluctuations and a poor diet en route to a fifth-place national finish as a sophomore.
Rededicating himself after that disappointment, Cox went 61-1 during the final two seasons of his college career with the lone loss coming by disqualification.
He became the second wrestler in Mizzou history to go undefeated, finishing 28-0 as a senior and winding up second in voting for the Dan Hodge Trophy as the nation’s best collegiate wrestler.
Cox also is one of two four-time All-Americans and boasts the highest win percentage in program history (136-5). He is tied for second in career wins, ranks second with 20 career technical falls, ranks third with 31 major decisions and is tied for eighth with 27 falls.
He will assume his new coaching duties on May 15 after graduating from MU with a bachelor’s degree in psychology.
“On the mat, J’den knows the importance of being technical and having the right mindset going into matches, as well as the role nutrition plays toward the success of a wrestler,” Smith said. “With recruiting, he’s going to be the person I point to when conversing with recruits and say, ‘you can accomplish everything J’den did and more while at Mizzou.’”