A year ago, Clay Cox ’91 was in leather shoes, walking the streets of Gwinnett County, Ga., as he campaigned for Congress. Now, the former legislator has ditched the shoes — trading one in for a cleat and leaving the other bare — as he moves on to the next phase in his life, one that most people enjoy in their younger days.
Two decades after his college football career ended, Cox has returned to the field as kicker for minor league football’s Atlanta Chiefs. “I always knew I had one more season left in me,” said Cox, who played for Western Carolina but contracted an illness on his kicking foot — which he keeps bare — during his senior year.
Known for teaching former Pro Bowl selection Jason Elam to kick when the two were at Brookwood High School, Cox landed in the pros at age 42 because of a bet. A kicking coach at Greater Atlanta Christian School, Cox told his players after a disappointing 2009 season, when the team failed to reach the playoffs for the first time in 14 years, that he would try out for a team if they made the playoffs in 2010.
They did, so he did, going to Stan Gay and his Gridiron Development Football League team, never dreaming he would make the squad of former college and high school athletes hoping to make it to the NFL. “I always tease him that he’s the old man on the team,” said Gay, the team’s general manager. “He kicked the ball well. I couldn’t deny him.”
The transition from the political game to the gridiron hasn’t been tough, Cox said. “I know people in politics who think that being elected or their political office is who they are. It is the most important thing in their lives. I have never been that way,” he said. “I just look for another opportunity to give in another way. I do the important things, being a dad and coaching and playing football.”
At the Chiefs’ games, many of GAC’s special teams members have been in the stands cheering for their coach, but Cox has missed the one who matters most to him – son Connor, who will be a senior this year and is expected to start as the team’s kicker. Connor has been in basic training all summer, part of his plan to begin a military career. “We’ll both be kicking at the same time,” Cox said.
Even with going to practice after a day’s work at his company, Professional Probation Services, Cox said the time requirements are a lot less than when he was a legislator. But while he was one of the youngest legislators, now he’s on the other end of the spectrum. To keep in shape, he’s been running 15 miles a week. “I keep up with the big linemen,” Cox said of drills with a laugh. “I’m not last, and that’s a moral victory at 42.”
Reprinted in edited format with permission of the Gwinnett Daily Post.