TAMPA — Roland Smith remembers quite vividly the first time he saw Dalvin Cook play.
Smith is in his first year as head coach at Miami Central, Armwood’s opponent in Saturday’s Class 6A state championship game. But before he took over the Rockets, Smith would often go to their games to support his former assistant, Telly Lockette, Miami Central’s coach at the time.
That’s when Smith witnessed his future protege.
“He was playing at a high level at a young age,” Smith recalled. “I said, ‘Before this kid graduates from high school, he’s going to be a very special man.’ ”
Two years later, that’s exactly what Cook has become for Miami Central (13-1). Cook, a 5-foot-11, 190-pound Florida commit, is ranked the nation’s second-best running back recruit for the class of 2014 by 247Sports.
Having shared carries with fellow Division I commit Joseph Yearby most of the season, Cook has still recorded more than 1,700 yards and 30 touchdowns.
Yearby, who also reached the 1,700-yard mark, suffered a season-ending fibula fracture in Central’s 54-3 playoff win against Heritage on Nov. 30. His absence lessens the number of prolific weapons the Hawks will have to worry about Saturday.
Armwood (14-0) coach Sean Callahan is well aware his team has its hands full with even half the load.
Two years ago, Armwood beat Miami Central 40-31 in the state final, but not before then-sophomore Cook returned a kickoff 99 yards for a touchdown.
Keeping that play in mind, Callahan said he planned to spend a little extra time working with his kickoff unit in practice to get it ready for whatever Cook might bring in the rematch.
“We have a kicker that’s pretty good and usually puts it in the end zone,” Callahan said, “but I don’t want that one time Dalvin’s around the ball to bring back some bad memories for me.”
After all, you give Cook an inch, he’ll go a yard. Or 10. Cook averages nearly 11 yards per carry, and his speed, Smith said, is what makes him so dangerous.
“His strength is his explosiveness,” Smith said. “When he gets an open field, he’s going to take it to the house.”
That’s the exact thing the Hawks can’t let happen if they want to leave Orlando with their third state title. The good news for Armwood, though, is that it has shut down offenses all season.
The Hawks finished the regular season allowing fewer than five points per game. Armwood didn’t allow more than one touchdown in a single contest until its first-round playoff matchup with Venice.
The Armwood players know about Cook and all he has to offer. But with their defensive track record to lean on, the Hawks aren’t willing to put Cook on a pedestal in their minds.
He’s just another obstacle on the way to the top prize.
“We’re not looking at him as someone who’s unstoppable this week,” linebacker Jordan Griffin said. “We’re looking to go in and be able to do our job and come out with a state championship.”
Kelly Parsons can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @_kellyparsons.
State football final
Class 6A: Armwood vs. Miami Central
When/where: 1 p.m. Saturday; Citrus Bowl, Orlando
Admission: $12; parking $10