The news of Brenton Cox Jr.‘s dismissal from the Florida football program Sunday came as a surprise to the masses upon its revelation Monday, considering Cox was a former five-star prospect who had started every game this season in what was expected to be his final season of college football.
Florida head coach Billy Napier opted not to divulge the details of what led to Cox’s departure from Gainesville, leaving those outside the UF football complex wondering just what led to the parting of ways.
“I don’t know that we would get specific relative to the – to what caused the decision. I think it’s more of a cumulative effect here,” Napier said. “We keep that in house.”
Cox is hardly the first player to be dismissed from the Florida program, although it’s worth noting many of the previous dismissals in recent history were due to legal issues, which isn’t the case with Cox from what Swamp247 has learned of the situation.
As for Napier, he’s hardly the first UF head coach in their inaugural season with the program to dismiss a high-caliber player.
Former UF head coach Will Muschamp dismissed senior cornerback Janoris Jenkins following his third arrest in a 24-month span, with the final straw being a misdemeanor possession charge for less than 20 grams of marijuana. Jenkins was coming off a season in which he was named an All-SEC first team selection by the Associated Press and was being pegged as a potential first-round NFL Draft pick prior to his dismissal from the program. Jenkins, a Pahokee native, finished his UF career with eight interceptions and he was eventually selected in the second round of the NFL Draft by the St. Louis Rams.
At the time, Muschamp was abundantly aware of Jenkins’ talent despite having just arrived in Gainesville, but it was important for Muschamp to set the precedent that continued run-ins with the law wouldn’t be tolerated, let alone go unpunished.
While the situation with Cox is due to internal infractions rather than legal issues, Napier found himself in a similar situation Sunday: faced with a disciplinary issue on the roster, Napier had to make the difficult decision to part ways with Cox, a move he called “in the best interests of the team.”
Regardless, it wasn’t an easy decision to make.
“These are hard things, right? So I think we’ll just keep all that in house,” Napier said. “I think that we want to do what we can do to help Brenton going forward, but I think it’s a healthy thing for our team.”
After Napier addressed the situation, the Gators brought a pair of players – Jaydon Hill and O’Cyrus Torrence – to the lectern to address the media, and each player was asked their opinion on Cox’s departure from the program.
Torrence, who followed Napier to Gainesville from Louisiana, couldn’t recall a time with the Ragin’ Cajuns where the head coach had to cut ties with a player on the roster, much less a starter within the defense in the No. 1 jersey.
“Not that I can remember,” Torrence said. “We had problems with players, maybe, that I didn’t know about, but not for the most part.”
He was cognizant of the fact it’s a wake-up call to those within the building that certain behavior won’t be tolerated, no matter someone’s status on the roster. To the team, from starters to walk-ons, Cox’s dismissal was a reminder that playing the game at the Southeastern Conference level is a privilege.
“(It’s) a message that some things you do, you just can’t put up with as a team, as a whole,” Torrence said. “We’re in this thing together, so some things you do just can’t be accepted.”
They may no longer be teammates with Cox, but not everyone within Florida’s building was eager to turn their backs on their now-former teammate. Before Napier confirmed the news, fifth-year safety Trey Dean III refuted the initial report of Cox’s news by writing “THIS IS FALSE” on his Twitter account. Dean later deleted the tweet before posting a message of solidarity with Cox.
“Don’t Worry 1 I Got You!,” Dean posted to his Twitter account shortly after 1 pm
They may not agree with whatever Cox did that ultimately led to his dismissal, but the Gators weren’t keen on piling on Cox, who will either enter the NCAA’s transfer portal and play for his third team in a five-year span or enter the upcoming NFL Draft. Whatever he decides to do, Florida’s players weren’t looking to kick him on his way out the door.
“It definitely sends a strong message throughout the locker room. That’s my guy. I’m still rooting for B to this day,” Hill said. “It kind of caught me off guard a little bit. I kind of found out when I got there. That’s Coach Napier’s decision, and I leave that up to Coach. We’ve just got to keep growing as a team and finish out strong , but I wish him the best for sure.”
As for where Florida turns with Cox no longer in the fold, the Gators will look to utilize a rotation of Anthony Powell-Ryland Jr. and Lloyd Summerall III at the JACK linebacker spot.
The latter missed Florida’s 42-20 loss to No. 1-ranked Georgia with a lower-body injury while the former is nearing the 200-snap count mark for the season, having been used consistently in the rotation behind Cox through the first eight games of the season.
Heading into Florida’s 12 pm ET kickoff in College Station with Texas A&M, Powell-Ryland Jr. has totaled 11 tackles, including one for a loss, along with a forced fumble and three quarterback hurries. As the Gators look to close strong as they enter the final month of the season, they’ll have to do so without one of their veterans and most-experienced players on the defense in Cox, although Napier’s of a belief those that remain in the room are capable of filling the void.
“We’ve been playing a handful of players in that position the entire year. I think — so AP and Lloyd and those guys will do a really good job,” Napier said. “They’ve been playing in each and every game for the most part. I know Lloyd was out this past week, but we’ll just continue in that direction.”