TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Before he was a college football superstar in the running for the Heisman Trophy, Dalvin Cook was first a green freshman fighting for playing time on a Florida State football team loaded with future NFL talent. That changed, however, on Oct. 30, 2014, the night the Seminoles visited the Louisville Cardinals for the first time in a dozen years.
With FSU trailing the Cardinals by three touchdowns and veteran running back Karlos Williams sidelined by an injury, Cook introduced himself to a national audience with a 150-yard, two-touchdown performance that helped the Seminoles rally for a 42-31 victory.
It was the second 100-yard rushing game of Cook’s career and, two years later, still one of the most meaningful.
“That was my coming out party,” Cook said. “I just had to go out there and do what I had to do for the team.”
On Saturday, Cook and his Florida State cohorts return to Louisville for another nationally-televised showdown with the Cardinals. This time, Louisville ranks 10thin the nation and has a Heisman candidate of its own in sophomore quarterback Lamar Jackson.
Jackson is off to a sensational start this season, having accounted for 1,015 yards and 13 touchdowns in just two games.
His exploits have captured the attention of the college football world, but they’re nothing new for Cook, who lined up against Jackson during their days as prep football stars in South Florida.
Cook’s Central Rockets had the upper hand over Jackson’s Boynton Beach Tigers on the scoreboard, but that didn’t stop Jackson from dropping a few highlights on the field.
“He (did) that to my team in high school,” Cook said. “Breaking long runs like that. I knew what he could do on his feet.
“He got better as a passer in that offense, in that system. Louisville did a great job of developing him as a passer.”
There may be no one in college football more known for breaking long runs than Cook.
Through two games, though, Cook has yet to uncork those lengthy runs at the rate he did last year – his 37-yarder against Charleston Southern last week is his only run of 20-plus yards this season.
It’s led to questions about field conditions in Orlando, whether Cook is feeling rusty, or even if the little bit of weight added in the offseason – about five pounds – may be holding him back.
But both Cook and coach Jimbo Fisher brushed those questions aside and said that it’s just a matter of time before those splashy plays return.
“I feel great. There’s no rust,” Cook said. “I’m taking what the defense gives me. Ole Miss did a great job of keeping me in the box and that’s why (FSU quarterback Deondre) Francois delivered how he delivered.
“There’s not shaking any rust off, I’m just going to keep playing my game, it’s going to come to me.”
That long scamper through Charleston Southern certainly provides reason for optimism. It had everything that makes Cook special – a seemingly benign run up the middle, a defense that thinks it has him corralled and then, somehow, a breakaway that defies explanation.
“Like I said, it’s going to come, long runs like that,” Cook said. “I was going to take my five yards, but then they did a poor job of wrapping me up, so I just kept my legs going. It felt great.”
And besides, it’s not like Cook hasn’t produced.
He had 192 yards of total offense against Ole Miss – more than all but five of his games last year – and he averaged 7.5 yards per carry despite a light workload during FSU’s romp over CSU.
It’s just that a significant portion of Cook’s output against the Rebels came through the air. His 101 receiving yards were the most for an FSU running back in 10 years.
Cook doesn’t differentiate between rushing yards and receiving yards.
“Just get me the ball in open space, get me the ball out of the backfield. Just find me different ways to get the ball,” Cook said. “I knew it would help (the offense). …
“It just shows the versatility I have. It shows I’m not one-dimensional, that I can catch the ball out of the backfield. I kind of like it, getting one-on-one with the linebackers, just winning that battle.”