EAST LANSING - Jeannette (Pa.) High School coach Roy Hall knew Demetrious Cox was destined for a major college future in football way back when Cox was a freshman.
"He came in and was playing real well as a ninth-grader, delivering some nice hits," Hall said. "And then one time, he hit a guy real hard and the ref threw a flag.
"We said, 'What was it? Did he lead with his helmet or something?'
"And the ref said, 'No. He just hit too hard.'"
That won't be a problem for Michigan State coaches when they welcome Cox to campus this summer. He will arrive as Michigan State's most noteworthy defensive commitment of the 2012 recruiting class.
Cox, along with Southfield linebacker Jamal Lyles, is one of the two highest-ranked defensive recruits in the class of 2012 for the Spartans. Both are Rivals.com four-star recruits.
In selecting MSU over Ohio State, Penn State and Wisconsin, Cox represents the most significant recruiting victory of the year for the Spartans, in terms of the level of program MSU defeated for his services.
"A lot of people said, 'How can you turn down Urban Meyer?' Well, he loved Michigan State," Hall said. "He loved the coaches and they did a great job recruiting him.
"I don't think anybody recruited him harder than Michigan State and Wisconsin. I mean Wisconsin was living here too. I'm pretty sure they are heart-broke."
Rivals.com lists Cox as the No. 13 safety in the country and the No. 10 player in Pennsylvania.
Cox, who goes by the nick-name "Dee Dee" (pronounced Day Day), starred at quarterback and safety in leading Jeannette to a 12-0 record. "Everybody calls him Dee Dee," Hall said.
Cox and Jeannette eventually bowed out of the state playoffs in the WPIAL (Western Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic League) championship game against powerful Aliquippa at Heinz Field on Thanksgiving weekend.
With short-area burst, elusiveness and an extra gear, Cox rushed for 1,174 yards as a senior, averaging more than 12 yards a carry.
He also passed for 734 yards (51 of 87) and 8 TDs.
The honor roll student scored the 1,000th point of his four-year varsity basketball career last Friday night. He is one of the top basketball players in Pittsburgh. But he is one of the best defensive backs in the country.
"The coaches loved his speed, his awareness and his hitting ability," Hall said. "They love the way he comes up and reads the plays, his ability to make big plays."
At 6-1, 192, Cox is perhaps the hardest-hitting safety Michigan State has signed during the Dantonio era, and perhaps the fastest. As a free safety in Jeannette's cover-three defense, Cox routinely blasted opposing receivers and ball carriers by mixing high-level athleticism and physical strength with a high football I.Q.
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"He was the strongest kid on our team, benching about 335," Hall said. "And he runs about 4.4 and has a tremendous vertical jump. It speaks for itself that he has 50 scholarship offers to choose from.
"He is a great leader and a great competitor and a great kid. He has talent and he works. You saw it when he was in midgets (little league football). He had the work ethic then, from his father. With his speed and athletic ability and willingness to work, you knew the sky was the limit.
"He would run four or five miles a day, going back to when he was young. Up through high school he would never miss a workout. He was always there, always on time and always a leader and always doing the right thing."
Four years ago, Terrelle Pryor played quarterback at Jeannette and was ranked the No. 1 player in the country by Rivals.com. Cox carved out his own legend at football-crazy Jeannette, a small town of about 10,000 with a high school enrollment of 339.
"After Demetrious had a big game when he was a junior, some writers started talking about him and comparing him to Terrelle," Hall said. "But there was only one Terrelle Pryor and there is only one Demetrious Cox. They are both very gifted in their own way."
Cox was named WPIAL Class AA Player of the Year by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
Cox lists trigonometry as his favorite class, and was a black belt in karate at the age of 6.
DOWN TO MSU AND OSU
Cox was an early lean to Penn State. He took two unofficial visits to Penn State and one to Pitt as a junior in the fall of 2010.
In the winter of 2011, he took unofficial visits to Penn State, Pitt and made his first trip to Michigan State.
In the spring of 2011, he took an unofficial visit to Pitt, took in the spring game at Ohio State and attended the NIKE combine at Penn State.
Last summer, he had unofficial visits to Notre Dame, Penn State and MSU.
Last fall, he attended the MSU-Michigan football game and then MSU received his first official visit during the weekend of Dec. 12.
MSU then had to wait for Cox to sort through three more official visits in January, to Penn State, Ohio State and last weekend to Wisconsin.
"I know his decision was very tough, unbelievably tough," Hall said. "He didn't say it, but I believe it came down to Michigan State and Ohio State.
"Dee Dee is such a great kid that it was hard for him to tell those guys that he was going somewhere else."
Cox told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that the Jerry Sandusky sexual abuse case steered him away from Penn State and opened other avenues.
"When all that stuff went down, I just found a little more stability at Michigan State," Cox told the Post-Gazette. "Really, after I went up to Michigan State for the Michigan game, I've liked Michigan State. I saw how crazy it was up there. I never realized how football-oriented everything is up there."
MSU coaches supplemented that experience with a consistent message.
"I think the message they gave was that Michigan State is a football place, and their team is like a family," Hall said. "They all look after one another and they play well with each other and he can come up there and get a quality education and maybe help them win a National Championship.
"The first thing he said was that he believed he can get a great education there and he loved the coaching staff."
Mark Staten served as MSU's primary recruiter, with help from position coach Harlon Barnett. Mark Dantonio made his in-home visit last week.
"I swear sometimes I thought he (Staten) had residency here in Pennsylvania," Hall said. "And the defensive backs coach (Barnett) was here, recruiting hard.
"He (Cox) loved the campus and the surroundings and everything Michigan State had to offer."
But MSU wasn't his only impressive visit.
"He said they were all great," Hall said. "All the visits in the Big Ten, he said they were fantastic."
Picking MSU wasn't easy, for various reasons.
"It doesn't sit too well with us being here, 20 miles from Pitt and two hours from Penn State and when they lose one of their own they are not too happy about," Hall said. "They get mad and they tell you about it. You can hear them on the streets here. They put stuff on the internet and Twitter and all that stuff about, 'You should stay home. Stay in Pennsylvania. Go to Pitt.' I mean they even get mad if a kid doesn't go and visit.
"These young guys, I don't know how they can handle all of that. That just shows that they can take the pressure."
On or off the playing surface.
"I remember one time we were playing a basketball game in a tournament in Greensburg Salem and there was a big student section for the other team," Hall said. "And they started chanting, 'You're not Pryor! You're not Pryor!' And that got to him. So he got the ball on a fastbreak and he just gave a monster dunk, and the whole student section just sat down and shut up."
Michigan State coaches never promise a recruit playing time, and they only occasionally tell a recruit that they expect him to come in and compete for an immediate role. But with Cox, there is a belief that he could be an impact freshman.
"They see him as a defensive back and they expect him to come in and challenge for a starting job," Hall said.
Of course he will have to learn the MSU system and demonstrate a level of accountability.
Michigan State must replace the graduating Trenton Robinson and field safety. The Spartans return junior-to-be Isaiah Lewis at boundary safety. He was second-team All-Big Ten in 2011.
A solidly-built Top 10 program, MSU was not in dire need of help at the safety position in the 2012 recruiting class. MSU has some scholarship reserves in place at the position and sought to restock the shelves with two more safety signees this year. But when one of the signees is as promising as Cox, there is always a chance for an immediate contribution.
The Spartans will return sophomores Jairus Jones and Kurtis Drummond as candidates to replace Robinson. Jones was the nickel back in 2010, and missed most of 2011 with an Achilles injury. Jones returned to the field midway through the season but Drummond stayed on as a regular in the nickel defense as the third safety.
R.J. Williamson, who redshirted in 2011, will also be in the mix, in addition to Mylan Hicks. Hicks redshirted in 2010 and missed the first 13 games of 2011 with an injury but got on the field as part of kickoff coverage in the Outback Bowl on Jan. 2.
MSU considers the third safety in the nickel defense a "starter" of sorts, and Cox has the talent to vie for an immediate role. Jones and Drummond will have an early edge, due to their knowledge of the system and playing experience. But Cox is likely to pack more athleticism. MSU has played, and started, true freshmen over older players in the past in the secondary, under Dantonio.
Michigan State won't be relying on Cox to make a dent in the two-deep in 2012. But if he is good enough early on, he could climb in a hurry.
In future years, Cox's background as an explosive quarterback could be called upon.
"Demetrious was such a great player that a lot of schools recruiting him mentioned the possibility of running plays with him in the Wildcat," Hall said.
MSU was among those expressing the idea. MSU has utilized skill players with QB backgrounds in the Wildcat in the past.
"Michigan State, their coaches were just fantastic, and they have a great program and they are very consistent in the Big Ten," Hall said. "I'm sure the success they have had the last few years really has helped them. And he loved the campus and the surroundings and everything Michigan State had to offer."