Cook's not a one-trick pony
MORGANTOWN - One might think that after making the single biggest play in one of West Virginia's most high-profile wins ever, Darwin Cook could relax just a little bit.
Well, not really. In fact, scoring his first-ever college touchdown on one of the biggest stages possible just whetted his appetite for more.
"That's my mindset. I want to score,'' West Virginia's junior safety said. "I want to score every game. I didn't make enough plays last year. I really didn't.''
Yeah, but the one he did make was pretty special.
It was Cook, with West Virginia seemingly certain to again fall behind Clemson in a see-saw Orange Bowl game, who helped turn the game around. The Tigers had first-and-goal at the WVU 3-yard line, trailing 21-17, and were averaging more than 10 yards per play on the drive that got them there.
But then linebacker Doug Rigg reached in with his broken hand and stripped Clemson's Andre Ellington of the ball. Cook, from behind the play, reached down and picked it up. Ninety-nine yards and a flattened Obie the Orange mascot later, what seemed certain to be a 24-21 deficit was a 28-17 West Virginia lead.
That opened the floodgates and the Mountaineers went on to set all-time NCAA bowl scoring records in a 70-33 rout.
As for Cook, well, he got plenty of ink and air time for both the play itself and what happened at the end of it when he ran over Obie beyond the end zone. And he wouldn't trade the experience for anything.
But he doesn't want to be known as just a one-trick pony.
"Yeah, it was pretty good, but I don't want to be known for just the Orange Bowl,'' Cook said. "I know I'm going to carry that with me, but I don't want to be known just for that.''
Well, as West Virginia prepares to open its season Saturday in what might be the final game ever with Marshall, Cook will likely have as many opportunities as he wants to make plays. He is back for his junior season after starting all 13 games as a sophomore and will also play on both the punt and kickoff teams.
Often times players who set out to make plays don't. Sometimes coaches prefer those who play within the scheme, do their jobs and let the plays come to them.
Cook will have to fit into that mold to a certain extent, but he will do so with a different attitude.
"That was my mindset last year, just doing my job,'' Cook said. "But my mindset this year is to go out and make plays any way possible - special teams, defense, everything. If I can make a play on a punt, great. That's what I want to do every play.''
There was, of course, a point a few months ago when it seemed questionable whether Cook would even play, much less make plays, this season. He and safety-linebacker Terence Garvin were arrested in early May for shoplifting snacks from a Morgantown convenience store a month earlier.
As much as he's grateful for becoming somewhat famous in the Orange Bowl, he's even more appreciative that he didn't become infamous for what happened three months later.
Coach Dana Holgorsen elected not to suspend either after putting them through grueling workouts and, as he said, forcing them to prove they deserved a second chance.
"I learned a lot from it,'' Cook said. "I'm just so happy to be here. I might not have been. My life could have changed very quickly. I thank Coach Holgorsen for still believing in me and trusting me.''
"We went through a lot. He put us through a lot of physical things, and he made us realize what a privilege it was to be here. It's a blessing. I smile every day when I wake up.''
If Cook does make more plays this season and perhaps even get into the end zone again, he's learned from the Obie experience to watch what happens when he gets there. He hasn't studied much about mascots in the Big 12 - "Do they have any fruits?'' he asked - but figures if he can make a play in a home game in Morgantown, that would be even better.
"I want to,'' Cook smiled. "But if I get to the end zone [at Mountaineer Field] I'm just going to shake the Mountaineer's hand. I dream about that all the time.''
Reach Dave Hickman at 304-348-1734 or firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him at Twitter.com/dphickman1.