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Hilliard football program stays in house with the hire of Waylon Cox

The Red Flash's new head coach moves up from offensive coordinator
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HILLIARD, FLORIDA – One of Nassau County’s most successful programs in recent years, Hilliard High School, elevated offensive coordinator Waylon Cox to fill the program’s vacant head coach position.

Cox replaces former Red Flashes head coach John Pate, who finished with a 27-15 record at Hilliard and won District 5-1A Coach of the Year for three consecutive seasons. Cox served as the offensive coordinator under Pate and helped the Red Flashes make three straight appearances in the 1A Regional Semifinal game.

The program came a long way under Pate, who took over a squad in 2018 that sported only 17 players on the roster.

“We want to continue to get better at everything we do,” Cox said recently. “We want to win as many games as we can. We also want to help our guys learn how to be better people and take lessons that they learn from football into their lives.”

Last season, Hilliard’s offense averaged 32.8 points per game with Cox as the group’s coordinator, including five games scoring at least 40 points. Over the last three seasons, Hilliard finished with a combined 25-8 record.

But in order to take the next step as a program, Cox noted the team needs “to get bigger and stronger.”

He points to senior quarterback Lyle Bennett as a player who will provide leadership for the team. Bennett’s started for the Red Flashes since his freshman year. Junior Ryland Hall, a 6-foot-5, 285-pound offensive tackle, has drawn interest from Division I schools.

Cox played high school football in the area at Bolles, before moving on to play collegiately at Jacksonville University. He spent time as the special teams and receivers coach at Bolles as well. Cox also worked as a graduate assistant under Kerwin Bell at Jacksonville University.

“I have been fortunate enough to play for and coach with some truly great people such as Corky Rogers, Kerwin Bell, Bobby Ramsay, Wayne Belger, Ian Shields and Rich Ellerson,” Cox said. “Each of these men have taught me a lot about the game of football. I will use the lessons and knowledge that they gave to me and give it back to our current team.”

Hilliard athletic director Jason Collins noted in March that Cox takes over a program with “a winning culture” and “long-term sustainability.” Collins said: “The health of the program and our team’s success remain our top priority."

Hilliard competes in the Florida High School Athletic Association (FHSAA) rural class, which remains largely unchanged for 2022-23 despite the FHSAA adopting new Metro-Suburban district assignments for most of the state. All Rural schools will have 600 students or fewer, and six teams per region will qualify for the postseason based on the rankings.

The Red Flashes find themselves in the Region 3-1R (Rural) district, with other area schools, including Bell High School, Branford, Fort White, Hamilton County, Lafayette, Madison County, and Union County.