Damonte Coxie could have been catching passes from LSU quarterback Joe Burrow or maybe even Alabama’s Tua Tagovailoa during Week 2 of the 2019 season.
Instead the Baton Rouge native is a rising star in the Memphis Tigers' offense.
Coxie will get a taste of home cooking when the Southern Jaguars visit the Liberty Bowl for an 11 a.m. game Saturday.
Coxie’s journey from a three-year player at Tara High School to Memphis’ leading receiver and one of the best in the nation took a twist here and a turn there. At times there was doubt if it would work out, but he says he wouldn’t change a thing.
“I’m glad I made this choice,” said Coxie, who caught 72 passes for 1,174 yards and seven touchdowns as a sophomore in 2018. “Everything happens for a reason. I fit in here, they love to throw the ball and I love to catch it. It’s been good for me.
“I’m definitely excited to play Southern. I grew up with some of those guys. It will be good to get back on the field together.”
Coxie twice committed to LSU as a member of the 2016 recruiting class after transferring from Tara to East St. John High School for his senior season. Alabama showed interest when Coxie decommitted but a knee injury during the 2016 track season caused recruiters to back off.
Memphis stepped into the void, offering Coxie a landing spot where he could rehab his injury in a redshirt year and the move paid off for both sides.
“I’m happy the way it all ended up,” he said. “I wouldn’t change anything for the world. I love my school and my city, and I appreciate them for taking a chance on me."
Coxie caught six passes for 44 yards in Memphis’ season-opening victory against Ole Miss. As a freshman, he caught 21 passes for 323 yards and six TDs. He’s already tied for 20th in receptions (93) on the school’s all-time list, tied for 15th in receiving yards (1,497), and tied for fourth in 100-yard receiving games (5).
When quarterback Brady White transferred in last year, the two spent last season getting to know one another and by the end were clicking with great chemistry.
“He means a lot to us, he’s a key contributor to the team and the offense especially,” White said. “He brings an energy and attitude that’s infectious. It gets everyone else juiced up.
“I came in last year not knowing anyone. We had moments where we butted heads. As the season went on our connection got nice and tight. We were on the same page.”
White gave an example Wednesday shortly after practice where both he and Coxie had the same notion about a cornerback’s positioning. Everyone else thought the play would go one way, but White and Coxie were the only ones who saw the big play opportunity.
“He was wide-freaking open,” White said. “Neither one of us know how we did that, we just did it.”
Said Coxie: “Brady is my dude right there. Last year as we went along our communication got better. We know what each other is thinking.”
That could be trouble for Southern. Coxie is 6-foot-3 and 197 pounds, combining speed with good leaping ability that makes him tough on jump balls. His consistency has improved with each game with receptions in 20 consecutive games, and he’s only the third Memphis player to reach 1,000 receiving yards. The others are NFL players Isaac Bruce and Anthony Miller.
As high profile as he is now, Coxie wasn’t high on the radar for much of his high school career. Because of an untenable situation at home, he moved to LaPlace to live with his grandparents and blossomed as a receiver at East St. John.
He was named first-team All District and caught six passes for 193 yards and two touchdowns in the LHSCA/LFCA All-Star game at the end of the season.
Bigger schools backed off of Coxie after he tore the meniscus cartilage in his right knee but Memphis stayed firm with their offer. He underwent surgery before reporting and another surgery after enrolling.
“My mom and sister and I stayed with grandmother in Baton Rouge but there were too many of us in the house,” Coxie said. “Mom decided to send me to LaPlace. I didn’t really want to go but I knew it was the best decision for what I wanted to do. It was one of the biggest decisions I ever made, leaving my friends and family. It was a hard move but I learned to love it.”
Coxie is on the Biletnikoff Award watch list and is eying an even bigger season as a junior. His numbers were low last week as the Memphis offense took what Ole Miss gave and rushed for 192 yards. White stuck to a short passing game.
The off season was a time for honing his game after he admits he “left a lot of yards on the field” despite big numbers last season. He’s most proud of his improved blocking.
“I try to play bigger than what I am,” he said. “I’m way more aggressive than last year with the ball in the air, holding my lines in my routes and not getting knocked off my routes. I took a bigger step toward blocking. You have to focus on getting your feet right.”
Coxie said if he’d had his way, he would have liked to play Southern in Baton Rouge to be around more of his family. Several members are making the trip Saturday, some of which are die-hard Southern fans.
“They won’t be on Saturday,” Coxie said with a laugh. “Memphis has been a blessing. I didn’t know much about it. It was a new environment and when I got here I got the feel of how everything goes and now it’s like home.”
Southern will hold its second annual Extravaganza fundraiser at the Felton G. Clark Activity Center Sept. 13 at 7 p.m. Feature performers include The Original Lakeside and Tyree Neal. Call 225-771-3171 for more information.