Saturday, November 18, 2017
Sports

Times' Blue Chip player of year: Miami Central's Dalvin Cook

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Dalvin Cook had just had one of the best individual performances in a Florida high school state championship game. But after Miami Central's 52-7 rout of Armwood, few wanted to talk to the nation's No. 2 running back recruit about his four touchdowns and 223 yards.

Cook's past was known to all who surrounded him at Orlando's Citrus Bowl. The Miami native had just finished a career with the Rockets that yielded 4,268 yards, 64 touchdowns and the attention of the nation's best programs.

That December day, the future of the Tampa Bay Times Blue Chip player of the year was on everyone's mind.

At the time, Cook was a Florida oral commit with a wandering eye. He admitted he recently had been visited by then-Texas coach Mack Brown and Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher. It wasn't time yet, he said, to reveal the answer to the burning question.

He was ready, however, to all but end the process that had turned a boy with dreams into a man with a future.

"You keep hearing the same thing from all the coaches. Sometimes you just have to recognize what's real and what's fake," Cook said. "Once I keep hearing the same things, I'm just going to shut it down. … It's shut down today."

A star in the making

Cook is a relatively new name on the ever-expanding list of Miami football greats, but the 5-foot-11, 190-pounder has been on Larry Blustein's radar for almost a decade.

Blustein, who has covered prep sports in the Miami area for nearly 40 years, has witnessed his fair share of football talent. When he first saw 10-year-old Cook play for the Scott Lake Vikings, Blustein knew the kid had a bright future.

"His football skills were good, but his speed was unbelievable. He would run away from kids early on," Blustein recalled. "The only knock on him early on was that he was never really a trained running back. He just used his speed. He'd get in the open, and he was gone."

Cook used the speed to race into the Miami Central record books. The Rockets reached the state championship each of the three years Cook was on the varsity squad. Miami Central lost to Armwood in 2011 but not before Cook — then a sophomore — returned a kickoff 99 yards for a touchdown.

Cook scored two touchdowns the following year in a win against Gainesville, then added four in the Rockets' rematch with the Hawks.

Cook's decision

On New Year's Eve, a couple of days before he played in the Under Armour All-American Game, Cook orally committed to Florida State, flipping on his nearly nine-month commitment to the Gators.

Cook said his relationship with the coaches ultimately led him to pick the Seminoles. Those bonds, 247Sports recruiting analyst Josh Newberg said, were relatively fresh.

Newberg said Florida's Eddie Gran, now Cincinnati's offensive coordinator, began recruiting Cook as a freshman. The Gators planted seeds early and, eventually, got a commitment. But by August, Newberg said, the Seminoles began building a relationship with Cook.

His future had always seemed bright. But when Florida State running backs James Wilder and Devonta Freeman — Cook's former teammate at Miami Central — declared for the NFL draft in the days after their national championship victory, Cook's potential to make an immediate impact in Tallahassee grew.

This month, Cook made it official by enrolling at FSU.

Cook's speed and ability to catch the ball out of the backfield, Newberg said, make him well-suited for the Seminoles' system. Still, with running backs Ryan Green (St. Petersburg Catholic) and Karlos Williams returning, Cook will have competition for playing time.

"The thing with Florida State is they don't really have the guy," Newberg said. "They spread it around pretty well. As long as (Cook) stays healthy, I think he'll see meaningful carries (as a freshman)."

A finalized future

There was something different about Cook's demeanor as he stood on the turf at Tropicana Field at the conclusion of the Under Armour game Jan. 2. Maybe the adrenaline was still pumping from his 76-yard performance — a game record — or the 12-yard touchdown he capped with a celebratory Tomahawk Chop in the end zone.

But mostly, Cook just seemed free.

The recruiting process consumed more than three years of his life. Still, he won't speak ill of it.

"When you become a Rocket, you sign up for things like this," he said in December. "You become a man when you become a Rocket, and I became a man with this whole recruiting process."

When Cook answered questions about his plans in the weeks leading up to his final decision, he often did so with the straightest of faces, treating the conversation as if it were pure business.

But as he stood under the Tropicana Field lights and talked about his impending — and long-awaited — move to Tallahassee, he couldn't help but crack a smile.

"I made my decision," he said. "I'm relieved, and I can just play football now."

Kelly Parsons can be reached at [email protected]

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