MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. – For two decades, Warrick Dunn was the best running back in Florida State history and almost no one who has followed the Seminoles over the years would argue.
But as of Saturday afternoon, when Dalvin Cook announced that he would forego his senior season and pursue professional football, the hierarchy officially changed. Or at least got a little more crowded.
Because after Cook’s three spectacular seasons in Tallahassee, Dunn, at the very least, has company at the top of the mountain.
Cook, who with Dunn is one of two FSU running backs with multiple 1,000-yard seasons, announced his decision through a live video on his Instagram account.
“There’s no better feeling than putting on that garnet and gold, man,” Cook said. “I just want to start by saying thank you to Nole Nation for supporting me and my teammates. Thank you to coaches for pushing to be the man I am now.
“These last three years at Florida State were the best three years of my life.”
They were pretty great for the Seminoles, too.
A Miami native who verbally committed to the Seminoles just days before the 2014 BCS National Championship Game, Cook wasted little time embarking on a record-setting career.
He posted his first 100-yard game at Syracuse on Oct. 11, 2014.
Two years later, also at Syracuse, he broke Dunn’s 20-year record to become Florida State’s all-time leading rusher. Unsurprisingly, Dunn gave his full blessing.
“He can have it,” Dunn told the Tallahassee Democrat in November. “It has been 20 years. It’s time.”
In between, Cook treated Seminole fans to highlight after highlight – sometimes with his breakaway speed, sometimes with his surprising strength, often with both.
Cook set a single-season rushing record as a sophomore in 2015, then broke his own mark a year later.
His final line at FSU: 687 carries, 4,464 rushing yards (6.5 yards per carry) and 46 touchdowns. Cook also has the top two rushing seasons in FSU history (1,765 yards in 2016; 1,691 yards in 2015) and four of the top seven single-game performances.
“He is one of the greatest players to play at Florida State,” FSU coach Jimbo Fisher said. “…(And) one of the greatest players I’ve ever coached, as far as the (ability) to change a game with every touch. When he touches the ball, you know it’s not just first downs. You know the numbers on the scoreboard can change.”
Cook gave Florida State one last parting gift in the Capital One Orange Bowl last week.
With the Seminoles matched up against the favored Michigan Wolverines and their No. 2-ranked defense, Cook earned Orange Bowl MVP honors by torching the Big Ten heavyweights for 145 yards on 20 carries.
He opened the scoring with a two-yard touchdown and caught a 45-yard pass that led to a field goal. And he provided one of the lasting memories of his career with a 71-yard run on third-and-22 that led to a massive fourth-quarter touchdown.
“Last night was the best game of my life,” Cook said in his Instagram video.
Cook has plenty of great games from which to choose, but given the circumstances – a primetime, down-to-the-wire bowl game played in his hometown – it’s hard to argue.
“To be in this game, it was a childhood dream of mine,” said Cook, who grew up about 30 minutes from Hard Rock Stadium. “It was always a childhood dream to be up here on this podium with these guys and this coach.”
Speaking of his coach, Fisher might have spent more time last week praising Cook as a person than he did as a player.
In the run-up to bowl season, college football saw the beginning of an unusual trend in which two high-profile, draft-eligible players opted to skip their teams’ bowl games to avoid potential injuries and focus on their futures.
Pundits have debated the moves for weeks, and the debate will likely continue over the next few months leading up the draft.
For Cook, however, there was no debate. Never mind that he’s considered a surefire first-rounder.
“Not one bit,” he said. “That whistle would blow, I was going to be out there.”
Fisher, of course, will miss Cook’s dazzling runs and game-changing touchdowns – he joked that Cook made him look “real smart” as a coach – but he said after the Orange Bowl that Cook’s leadership, exemplified by his attitude at the Orange Bowl, is what he’ll miss most.
“We all know what he does on the field,” Fisher said. “What I’m going to miss is watching him in practice talk to the young guys.
“What I’m going to miss is, in the weight room in the summer when he’s working hard or harder like DeMarcus (Walker) and these guys. His work ethic and his demeanor and the way he’s changed these guys, the meetings we had. I would call and say, ‘Would you talk to so and so, we’ve got to get him to do right.’
“Anything I ever asked him to do, and the effect he had on his teammates, is what I’m truly going to miss.”