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Richard Wooten, his high school basketball coach, just shakes his head when someone mentions "The Dead End Kid" tag which persists, even now, in following Bobby through life. "He was an average student who could have made better grades if he had tried," says Wooten, "but his conduct was always good."
"Poppycock," says Fletcher. "Maybe Bobby was a bit of a heller with the girls, but no worse than any of the other kids. I wish all the athletes I'd had were as good a boy as he was."
The one thing which harmed Bobby in those days was too much adulation. In his four years at Walla Walla High he became the greatest prep school athlete in the history of the state.
Walla Walla was undefeated in football his junior and senior years, and Bobby was named all-state quarterback both seasons. He was also twice all-state in basketball, once on a state championship team. And as a half-miler in track, Cox was state champion as a sophomore and again as a junior, the last time running the second-fastest high school 880 in the nation that year, a 1:57.6. As a senior he didn't compete in track because "honestly there just wasn't any competition. Also," he will add, "I didn't have very much time that spring. I was out visiting colleges."
"They say there was a lot of pressure put on me around the state to stay right there and play football," he says now, "and I'll admit that there was. But the real reason I went to Washington is that they made me the best offer. Like a lot of other guys, I was just looking out for myself. I went to the school where I could get the best deal."
As sometimes happens, even best deals blow up in peoples' faces. Bobby was just resilient enough to escape before Washington blew up in his.
His college football career started out well enough. In one of the first games of his sophomore season, Cox threw three touchdown passes and a UCLA team which was on the way to a No. 1 national ranking considered itself fortunate to escape with a 21-20 victory.
But from this point, the situation deteriorated rapidly. There was dissension on the squad and the notorious slush fund case (SI, Feb. 20, 1956) was about to break wide open. By season's end, Cox was ready to get out. He decided the place to go was Minnesota. With Carlson's help, he went.