ATLANTA -- For now, Jamal Cox's old football buddies at Gilman seem to be more impressed with the fact he knows guys like Ken Swilling and Marco Coleman, two defensive stars here at Georgia Tech.
After all, Cox is but a lowly freshman while Swilling is an All-America strong safety, and Coleman anchored a defense that took the Yellow Jackets to a share of the national championship last year.
"I tell the guys back home that I know guys like Ken Swilling and Marco Coleman and they're really impressed," Cox said with a smile. "They want to know all about them and stuff."
Cox's buddies should actually be impressed that their old teammate is getting significant playing time as one of only two true freshmen to make the Yellow Jackets' two-deep defensive depth chart.
In fact, Cox, a 6-foot-2, 215-pound inside linebacker, earned a start in Tech's 24-21 win over Virginia three weeks ago, and has 11 tackles in five games this year.
"I thought I would sit out this year," said Cox. "I wanted to play, of course, but I just figured that I would sit and learn. I was surprised when they told me that I was going to play."
But Cox, an Evening Sun first-team All-Metro performer last year as the heart of a defense that allowed just 68 points in eight games, has cracked the big time of college football because of his ability to adjust and hit.
Chuck Bresnahan, Georgia Tech's inside linebacker coach, said the Yellow Jackets, who lost three inside linebackers to graduation, were looking for someone to step forward and bring size and aggressiveness.
"Jamal came in with the athletic ability and he gave us the kind of guy that can play the run and the pass," said Bresnahan. "His attitude was right on the mark. He is aggressive and instinctive. He's a real talent."
As with any new situation, Cox said he is still learning and adapting, but finds the new surroundings much to his liking.
"It's a bigger, faster game," said Cox. "When I go out there sometimes, it still feels kind of funny, but you still have to be aggressive. Our defense is somewhat complicated, but our defense at Gilman was complicated, too."
Indeed, Bresnahan agrees the Tech system can be confusing, but says Cox has mostly made the right moves and wants to learn when he doesn't.
"I've tried not to overcoach him. The program is a little intensive and there's a lot to digest and when Jamal makes a mistake, it's an honest mistake," said Bresnahan. "I'll call him over and talk to him about it, and he's been very, very willing to learn."
What hasn't been so thrilling, going into tomorrow's game against Maryland here (noon, Ch. 45), is the Yellow Jackets' record, a less-than-sparkling 2-3.
All of those losses have been on the road and to nationally ranked teams, plus the defense has had to cope with the on-again, off-again presence of Swilling, an All-America performer last season who has been slowed by a recurring hamstring pull.
But Cox isn't interested in excuses.
"I was somewhat disappointed with our record," said Cox. "One of the reasons I came here was because I knew it was a quality team. We know we're a better team than this. We just have to prove it."