Nothing comes easy
Cook flew largely under the recruiting radar despite starring for Armstrong High School. After spending his senior year at Fork Union Military Academy, he earned a scholarship offer to play for U.Va.
But things don’t come easy for kids from Mosby Court, and Cook— even as a student at one of the nation’s most prestigious public universities — is still very much a kid from Mosby.
“It was eerie,” recalled London, himself a former Richmond police officer and now the head football coach at Howard University. “During the season he’d come up and say, ‘Coach, one of my boys got shot. One of my boys died.’ It was always something that was coming up. He knew someone in the community who was a victim of something or who had committed something. And he’s like, ‘That’s why I’m here. I gotta get out. I gotta get my family out.’”
And injuries, one to each knee and one to his shoulder, limited him to just 51 snaps his first three seasons. Still, Cook headed into 2016 healthy and ready to live his dream.
Or so he thought.
Instead, he nearly lost it all on a football practice field in Charlottesville.
On Aug. 26, 2016, during a team workout, a searing pain in his chest dropped him to the ground twice. A team trainer sent him to the team doctors, who sent him to the U.Va. hospital emergency room.
Cook was diagnosed with myocarditis. An infection had caused his heart muscle to become inflamed. He could have died that day on the practice field. He might never play football again.
His recovery began simply enough. Cook had to rest his heart, let it heal.
Once that happened, the work to get back to the football field was grueling. The heart condition had sapped his stamina. Cook, a powerful Division I athlete, found himself out of breath walking up a flight of stairs.
Eventually, he could exercise, first on a stationary bike, then walking laps, then on a treadmill, then on an elliptical machine and then swimming. By winter, he was running again.
Kelli Pugh, the trainer who was by his side the day he collapsed on the practice field — the same trainer who had pushed, pulled and prodded him through the rehab of his knees and shoulder — told him he was now fully recovered. The inflammation that occurred in his heart should not reoccur. Medically, he was cleared to return to football.
It wasn’t her job to decide whether he would do that, Pugh said.
“Our role is just to reassure him that he is safe and that it’s OK for him to do anything he wants to do,” Pugh said. “Malcolm had to come to that decision on his own.”