WATERVILLE — When a football play runs just as it’s supposed to, your eye is drawn to the smaller guy running to the end zone with the football. The 6-foot-3, 280-pound guy back near the line of scrimmage, that’s somebody like Waterville Senior High School’s Tom Cox.

“The self-gratification of knowing that running back got into the end zone because you made your block, or that quarterback had the time to throw because you blocked the guy correctly is enough for me,” Cox, a senior two-way tackle for Waterville, said.

Recently selected as a first-team all-conference defensive tackle by the Pine Tree Conference Class B coaches, Cox, a Waterville captain, is enjoying a strong senior season. He and the Purple Panthers will try to extend the season at Hampden Academy on Friday night in a PTC B quarterfinal game.

The best thing Waterville head coach Frank Knight can say about Cox is, despite his size, on the field, Cox becomes invisible to Knight and the Panthers’ coaching staff.

“Offensive tackle, defensive tackle, when you’re not playing well, you get noticed. We don’t notice him,” Knight said of Cox.

Cox is the son of former Waterville athletic trainer Bill Cox, who died 10 years ago from complications following surgery. Being around the Panthers with his father instilled in Cox a love for football.

“I was around football my whole life, so being introduced to that really got me excited to play,” Cox said.

His father is never far from his thoughts, Cox said, and he tries to honor Bill’s memory with every game he plays.

“He’s a big part. I think of him before and after every game,” Cox said. “Even my body being tired, my mind can push me through it. I think that’s what helps the most, the drive to make him proud.”

This season has been Cox’s healthiest, although he did suffer a partial tear of his left MCL in the season opener at Mt. Desert Island. He missed the Panthers’ Week 2 game against Oceanside, and has been in the Waterville starting lineup since.

Last season, Cox broke his hand in Waterville’s preseason game against Lawrence, and played the entire season in a cast. As a sophomore, he had a shoulder injury. When Cox was a freshman, he had a groin injury.

“He stayed healthy and he had a good summer,” Knight said. “He got himself in good condition.”

Cox said the success he’s having this season is the culmination of four years of work.

“I have improved this year, a lot, but I have to give it to all four years of coaching. They really formed me into the player that I am today. I’ve got to give it to the coaches,” Cox said. “I’ve always been a big kid, but they turned me into an athlete, and the mentality I have today. Kick the (snot) out the guy in front of you.”

Offensively, Cox shows agility and quickness many players his size do not possess. One of Waterville’s signature plays is the counter run. On this play, the tackle is expected to pull and become the lead blocker. If the tackle can’t get to the hole quick enough, the play doesn’t work.

“Leading through on counters is one of his specialties,” Knight said. “He’s a good-sized kid to be leading up through the hole. He’s got good, quick feet. We’ve utilized his talents, I think, well this year.”

Defensively, Cox’s job is to take up space and blockers, allowing Waterville’s linebackers to come up and make the tackle. Knight gives Waterville’s defensive tackles a basic mission. If you can’t make the play, make a pile. Cox is adept at both.

“He just doesn’t get moved off the ball. He’s got a good low stance and a good low charge. We just ask our defensive linemen to protect the linebackers, and he does a really good job of that. Make a play or make a pile. If you don’t make the tackle, at least you don’t get moved off the ball,” Knight said.

Added Cox: “I clog up those holes and let our linebackers make the plays. Give the offensive line a hard time.”

Cox doesn’t know if football is in his college plans. It depends on the school and the program, he said. One school he’s considering is Maine Maritime Academy, where his cousin, Matt Hebert, is an offensive lineman and a captain this season.

“First, I have to figure out what college I’m going to go to,” Cox said.

Before he can think of the future, Cox must focus on extending Waterville’s season with a win at Hampden on Friday.

“We’re really proud of him,” Knight said. “He’s having a great season.”

Travis Lazarczyk — 861-9242

[email protected]