Obscure play led WVU's Cook to Morgantown
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. - Darwin Cook never could have known it, but the play that clinched the Lake Erie League football championship in 2008 also would decide his future and send him to West Virginia.
Cook was on defense for East Cleveland's Shaw High and playing out a 52-14 win against Lorain's Admiral King High. On the final snap of the game, Cook raced around the right end of the offensive line and exploded into the quarterback.
"He was about to throw the football and I was coming full-speed," Cook said. "I hit him and lifted him up and we were both up in the air. We went flying. It sounds crazy, but that's the play that got me a scholarship."
Not his first scholarship, though. Cook, now a redshirt sophomore and quite likely the starting bandit safety for the Mountaineers in the fall, committed to Cincinnati in the summer after his junior season at Shaw.
"We didn't know much about recruiting at the Division I level," Cook said. "It came out of nowhere. I didn't know what to do. I was just going with the flow."
WVU coaches had been keeping tabs on Cook for a little while, on the football field and on the track, but had no one in the stands the night Cook smoked the Admiral King quarterback.
"It was a terrible team, so no one was even in the stands," said Cook, who was part of the Shaw team that was 9-0 in the regular season and outscored opponents 332-123 before a season-ending 35-0 playoff loss. "College coaches didn't really come to Shaw, so at first I had no idea how I got a scholarship."
He would later visit WVU after accepting advice from an assistant coach as well as another Shaw graduate, former WVU basketball guard Will Thomas. He bailed on the Bearcats to join the Mountaineers.
In eventual discussions with then-WVU offensive coordinator Jeff Mullen, who recruited that part of Ohio, Cook learned that "killer sack," as he described it, was what sold the staff on Cook.
Not bad for player who was wildly out of position on defense and hadn't really entertained the idea of playing college football.
"I was ineligible in 10th grade," he said. "It was really about just going out to play football, nothing else. Then my coach said, 'We're going to put you at defensive end.' I said, 'OK.' I'd never played defensive end. I never thought I'd get a college scholarship. I never even thought about college football."
That changed when Cook - all 5 feet 11 and 180 pounds of him at the time - figured out he was pretty good at it.
"I was better than Bruce Irvin. Way better," Cook said. "When I'd get a sack they'd say 'Coooook' instead of 'Bruuuuuce.'"
As a junior, he had 92 tackles and 22 sacks. A year later, he had 99 tackles and 20 sacks.
"We called a play and I wouldn't even listen to the play," he said. "I'd just go out there in a three-point stance and go. I wasn't even learning the defense.
"I knew how to leverage the ball and stuff like that, but my football knowledge was poor. My tackling was poor. I was more of an offensive player."
Cook was one of the better sprinters in the state and used that to his benefit. He caught 19 passes for 200 yards and three touchdowns as a junior. The next season he caught 24 passes for 650 yards and carried the ball 24 times for 302 yards. He scored 10 touchdowns and admitted he took the game and what it offered much more seriously after the grant-in-aid offer from Cincinnati.
"I felt like I could make a living out of it and get out of my situation and go on to play college football," he said. "You realize something like that and it can change you."
Cook came to WVU in the summer of 2009, certain he'd play right away even though he still knew very little about how to play the game. It didn't take long to understand he had a lot to learn and there would be great value in sticking with safeties coach Steve Dunlap and Sidney Glover, the veteran in front of him, to absorb everything they offered.
"I kept making the same mistakes over and over. I was one of those guys," he said. "Then something clicked in my head and I told myself I couldn't keep making mistakes and I had to try to limit my mistakes to none in practice. Zero."
After redshirting in 2009, Cook had nine tackles and a fumble recovery last season and has settled in this spring, taking most of his reps with the first team.
"He's a wonderful kid and he wants to do well," defensive coordinator Jeff Casteel said. "He's had to learn the game from the ground up - he'd never been back in coverage - but Steve's done a great job with him and you're really seeing him just play the game a little more. He's still got a long way to go."
Cook thinks he'll get there. Not long ago, he had a long way to go to get here.
"I believe," he said. "Before I had some guys in front of me and I couldn't be confident. Now, I've been around. Things are coming together and I'm going to be a part of it."
Contact sportswriter Mike Casazza at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-319-1142. His blog is at blogs.dailymail.com/wvu.