Play­ing throughthe­fear

Richmond Times-Dispatch - - NATION & WORLD -

Cook did want to play. He had spent his sea­son of re­cov­ery on the side­lines, sig­nal­ing in the de­fen­sive calls for new U.Va. coach Bronco Men­den­hall, study­ing and learn­ing the ins and outs of the 3-4 de­fense. So in the fall, he strapped the pads back on.

Only he wasn’t the same player.

It took about two weeks of spring prac­tice be­fore Men­den­hall and out­side lineback­ers coach Kelly Pop­pinga had seen enough. Cook’s play was ten­ta­tive, he was hold­ing back. They had a blunt con­ver­sa­tion with him, one that didn’t cen­ter on ev­ery­thing he’d over­come, but rather on the mo­ment he was liv­ing in now.

“I told him, ‘If you’re go­ing to play like that, you’re never go­ing to play for me,’” Pop­pinga said. “If you’re go­ing to be ten­ta­tive, if you’re not go­ing to play phys­i­cal, if you’re al­ways gonna be wor­ried about get­ting hurt, then this game’s prob­a­bly not for you any­more.”

At col­lege, Cook had reached a safe space where the daily specter of death that hung over his old neigh­bor­hood seemed far away. Now, the fear crept back inside.

This time, it wasn’t the fear of be­ing caught in the wrong place at the wrong time or the fear of losing ev­ery­thing as a by­stander to a dis­pute.

Now, the threat came from within. It was Cook’s own body that had be­trayed him.

“In a way, Mosby pre­pared me for that,” he said. “It’s any given day you can go out there and die. When the heart thing hit, it was scary, but I started go­ing through in my head, ‘You could’ve died this time, this time, that time or this time.’”

Now, that haunt­ing feel­ing was back and Cook’s coaches had chal­lenged him to fight it.

Men­den­hall and Pop­pinga have had sim­i­lar con­ver­sa­tions with play­ers be­fore, and some of them chose to walk away from foot­ball. They didn’t know how Cook would re­act.

“The next day he showed up and he’s re­ally not turned back since then,” Pop­pinga said. “Ever since that con­ver­sa­tion, he’s been a to­tally dif­fer­ent player. He’s the guy that we need, ath­let­i­cally and phys­i­cally, at that line­backer po­si­tion.”

This sea­son, the 6-foot1, 230-pound Cook starts at out­side line­backer. In the Cava­liers’ sea­son-open­ing win over the Col­lege of Wil­liam & Mary he recorded a team-high 13 tack­les and his first ca­reer sack. He fol­lowed that up with five tack­les in

Vir­ginia’s loss to In­di­ana Univer­sity.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.