SAN ANTONIO – Varondria Burnett is vigilant in helping her son, James Cook, understand who he is and not what he has become.
That isn’t easy when your son isn’t scheduled to graduate high school until 2019 but is already being offered college scholarships from the country’s best programs.
Cook is a star in the making, but is definitely still his mother’s son. Spiritually faithful and soft-spoken on the few occasions he does talk, Cook uses a vocabulary heavy with “sirs” and “ma’ams.”
“She just tells me to stay humble and keep working hard and don’t ever forget where I started from,” Cook said.
Humility, along with great family genes, has made Cook one of the nation’s premier running backs.
He is one of 689 underclassmen from across the nation participating in the U.S. Army National Combine this weekend as part of the weeklong activities for the All-American Bowl and his performance helped earn him an invitation to the 2019 Army Bowl.
Cook comes to the combine after helping lead Miami Central High School as a freshman to its fourth consecutive Class 6A state title. He rushed for 178 yards and three touchdowns on 15 carries in a 48-13 victory Dec. 12.
The younger brother of Florida State standout running back Dalvin Cook, James Cook has already received scholarship offers from Alabama, Florida State, Georgia, LSU, Miami, Ohio State, Tennessee and West Virginia among others. He was already on the radar even before his freshman season, winning the MVP award at the Future Stars game at IMG Academy last summer.
It’s a lot for a high school freshman with dreams of playing in the NFL to take in.
“There is no pressure on me,” Cook said. “All I’ve got to do is just keep working and grinding and thanking God. It will all come together.”
Broad shouldered and lean at 5-foot-10 and 180 pounds, Cook is being guided by his family and faith.
Dalvin has helped him train and prepare for games and improve as a running back.
“It helps a lot,” Cook said. “I would like to thank them for helping me achieve this. I’ve just got to do what I’ve got to do on my part to achieve my goals.”
Considering all his success, Dalvin is a good guide.
Dalvin rushed for 1,691 yards and 19 touchdowns on 229 carries, helping Florida State to a 10-3 record this season.
As speedy as Dalvin and Cook are, that didn’t stop Burnett from reminding her young sons that she could take them both in a footrace. Burnett competed in track and field as a youth.
“She was fast,” Cook said. “She ran everything.”
Which may have been partly why Cook was so interested in the 40-yard dash this week. He ran a 4.79 on Friday morning, which was about what he expected.
“I haven’t run a 40 in a long time, so I just wanted to see how fast I could clock,” he said.
Cook is also working to improve his overall skills during the two-day combine. He is also keeping an eye on his peers, hoping to learn what they do to get better.
“They are all All-Stars, all All-Americans,” he said. “You can’t underestimate anybody. You’ve just got to go out there and grind like they are out there grinding.”