Smart guy this Mike Cook.
Spent two seasons backing up quarterback David Henigan at Fountain Valley High School. (Read: Cook stood on the sideline and watched). Knew he wanted a chance to play. Knew he couldn’t go through another season like the last one.
Mike Milner, Fountain Valley coach, saw potential in the gangly, 6-foot 5-inch lad. Milner knew he had to find a place for Cook to play. Cook was too good an athlete to stand aside while others determined the game’s outcome.
In a meeting after last season, the two determined that Cook should--and would--play in this his senior season. Milner decided to try Cook at wide receiver, taking him out of the shadow of Henigan, who was back for his third season as the Barons’ starting quarterback.
It has been a beneficial move for both parties.
Cook has gotten an opportunity to play and Milner has found an extra dimension to an already-potent offense.
Cook is the Barons’ leading receiver through four games. He has caught 16 passes for 329 yards, a 20.9-yard average that is tops in Orange County. He has caught 3 passes for touchdowns, 2 in last week’s 21-7 victory over El Modena.
El Modena Coach Bill Backstrom still is muttering about the touchdown catch Cook made by leaping over the defensive back and wrestling the ball away in the first quarter.
“I honestly thought the quarterback was throwing the ball out of the end zone,” Backstrom said. “Cook jumped so high. . . . “
But most importantly, Cook said, is that finally he’s getting some playing time.
“It’s exhilarating,” he said. “It’s a lot more fun this year now that I’m involved. I love football. I always wanted to play but it was getting frustrating.”
Cook’s family influence was a big reason he was so eager to be a starter at Fountain Valley. The Barons’ blue, gold and red colors always seemed to be present in the Cook home when he was growing up.
His father, Larry, a teacher and an assistant football coach at the school for 17 years, now is a personnel scout for the New England Patriots. His sister, Jackie, was a volleyball and basketball star there.
Cook has always tried to keep up. He joined the varsity as a sophomore, which was great but there was this Henigan kid, who also was a sophomore, and he got the starting job. Cook also excelled in the classroom and has a 3.9 grade-point average.
Cook figures he has seen almost every Fountain Valley football game since he was about 6, watching his dad’s teams. But that was the trouble going into his senior season. He’d seen too many games; he wanted to start one.
“I was always a Baron,” Cook said. “When I was little it all seemed so big to me . . . the stadium and the lights at night. (Now) that I’m actually participating, it’s a big thrill.”
Making the switch to wide receiver made it all possible.
“It was a good move on (the coaches’) part and a good decision on Mike’s part,” Milner said. “The transition was a simple one. He knew the ins and outs of the offense having been the focal point as a quarterback. It wasn’t a big adjustment on his part.”
In fact, the coaching staff had such confidence in Cook it decided the first play in the season-opener against Mater Dei would be a pass to him.
Cook, who knew in advance of the play selection, was a nervous wreck. His hands were sweating underneath the blue-colored gloves he wears. What if he dropped the ball? What if it came right to him and, plunk, it went off his hands for an incomplete pass?
A mix-up forced a change in plays and Cook was off the hook. His anxiety lessened and he relaxed as the game went on and his big chance came on a short pattern. Henigan threw the ball in the perfect spot for Cook to catch it for a 10-yard gain.
Since then, Cook has been a dependable receiver. He has caught passes in traffic and passes that seemed too low or too high to possibly be completions.
“He does it all the time,” Milner said. “He’s a big-play kind of guy. You need to have the extra effort to catch the ball in traffic like he does. If it’s thrown low, he’ll get it. If he doesn’t, he always thinks he should have caught it.”
El Modena’s Backstrom has seen Cook play three times--in last week’s game and twice while scouting other teams--and is impressed.
“That kid is definitely the kind of kid who will go up and get the ball for you,” he said. “If the ball is out there, he’s going to go get it.”
Cook’s performance against El Toro, a 35-31, last-second victory by Fountain Valley, was particularly noteworthy. He had a season-high 5 catches for 96 yards.
“He made some critical catches for them,” Backstrom said.
Among them was an 11-yard gain that set up the game-winning touchdown in the waning moments.
"(Henigan) really didn’t have the quality receivers in the past,” Milner said. “Mike and Doug Weaver (the other starting wide receiver) have added a dimension we haven’t had the last two years. It has been a real bonus.”
Milner never had any doubts as to whether Cook would succeed. It was a matter of him maturing and getting a chance to play. He thinks that Cook could even go on to play in college as a quarterback.
“He’s an intense kid,” Milner said. “He aspires to be better. It’s important to him to do well. He’s kind of a throwback to kids 20 years ago. He’s an ideal kid is what he is.”