CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Asked at last week’s ACC Football Kickoff about what he’s done to improve, Dalvin Cook answered with the usual platitudes about getting stronger and faster.
But for a player who has already shattered every school record he has come near while delivering a career’s worth of highlight-reel jukes, spins and touchdown runs, strength and speed are rarely issues.
Which is why, a few minutes into his interview, Cook also revealed he’s spent much of the offseason working to become better in ways that don’t show up in the box score.
As he enters his junior season at Florida State, Cook says he wants to become a pillar of the locker room, someone who both younger players and peers can look to for leadership and inspiration.
And, crazy as it may sound for someone who scored 19 touchdowns a year ago, Cook also says he wants to be a more effective player when the ball is not in his hands.
It’s a selfless thought from a player thought to be among the frontrunners for the Heisman Trophy.
“He affects our guys every day in a great way,” FSU coach Jimbo Fisher said. “By example, how he does things and his ability to see them not doing (things the right way) and go put his arm around them and talk to them. Or actually get on them.
“He has grown in the role of his responsibility.”
That’s welcome news for a Florida State offense that returns 11 starters from a year ago, but that also spent much of last season looking for new leaders to emerge in the wake of Jameis Winston’s departure.
For Cook, leading by example came naturally.
He sees his evolution into a vocal presence as an extension of his on-field performance.
“If you have success on the field, this will come with it,” Cook said. “There’s no other role I wanted to take than to be the face (of the program). I’m going to continue to make plays and lead these guys in the right way.”
So far, Cook is seeing his efforts pay off.
Cook was instrumental in organizing a group of Seminoles for summer workouts at FSU’s beach volleyball facility, where players spent time running and cutting in the sand, which in turn made for an easier time once they moved back to turf.
After a few sessions, Cook found he no longer needed to organize his teammates.
“Now they just go on their own,” Cook said.
And, despite missing the spring game due to a shoulder injury, Cook kept his presence at practice, where he took his own mental reps while mentoring the less experienced running backs.
“I’ve seen him grow,” senior defensive end DeMarcus Walker said. “And he’s become the voice of the offense.”
Which is not to say that Cook hasn’t spent plenty of time refining his physical traits, with health as his top priority.
Great as he was a year ago, it’s hard not to wonder what Cook might have done were he not saddled with lingering ankle and hamstring injuries.
While injuries are often out of a player’s control, Cook still said he’s doing everything in his power to keep himself in top condition for the season.
“Last year taught me a lesson,” Cook said. “I’m trying to work on the little muscles that you’ve got. I’ve got a good relationship with my trainer, good relationship with my strength coaches. … That’s a thing I take pride in, taking care of my body.”
Beyond that, Cook has a proven conditioning philosophy: work out until the exercises become easy, then ramp up the difficulty.
“That makes Saturdays come easy,” he said. “I push myself … so the game can be easy.”