100 in 100: Surry County’s Billy Cox, Duke All-American

The Mount Airy native is in both the Duke athletics and North Carolina Sports halls of fame

Legendary Duke coach Wallace Wade called Mount Airy's Billy Cox “unquestionably the greatest passer and one of the greatest players I have ever coached.” (Photo courtesy of Duke)

North State Journal’s 100 in 100 series will showcase the best athlete from each of North Carolina’s 100 counties. From Alamance to Yancey, each county will feature one athlete who stands above the rest. Some will be obvious choices, others controversial, but all of our choices are worthy of being recognized for their accomplishments — from the diamond and gridiron to racing ovals and the squared circle. You can see all the profiles as they’re unveiled here.

Surry County

Billy Cox

Billy Cox’s statistics pale by comparison to those put up by quarterbacks of today. But at the time he came along in the late 1940s, he was the most prolific passer Duke football had ever seen.

The native of Mount Airy threw for what was then a school-record 1,428 yards, along with eight touchdowns, during his senior year. He also ran for 567 yards during the 1950 season in which he served as team captain and ranked second nationally in total yardage with 1,995.

Cox led the Blue Devils to a 7-3 record that year, highlighted by a 30-21 victory against Georgia Tech on Nov. 4 in which he led his team back from a 21-0 deficit. He threw for 133 yards and ran for 144 yards in that game.

Called by coach Wallace Wade “unquestionably the greatest passer and one of the greatest players I have ever coached,” Cox finished his college career with 2,455 yards and 14 touchdowns through the air to go along with 1,255 yards and 15 scores on the ground. He was also Duke’s punter, averaging 35.7 yards on 113 kicks.

His 3,710 yards of total offense were the most ever by a Blue Devil at the time, a mark that stood for two decades until Leo Hart surpassed it in 1969.

For his efforts, Cox was twice named to the All-Southern Conference team. He was the Blue Devils’ MVP in 1950 as well as a first-team All-American. When his football eligibility was up, he lettered in track during the 1951 spring season before graduating with a degree in history.

He is a member of both the Duke athletics and North Carolina Sports halls of fame.

After playing in the Blue-Gray All-Star Game, Cox was taken in the eighth round of the NFL Draft by the Washington Redskins. He played three professional seasons with the team with limited success as a two-way player and punter in 1951-52 and ’55.