NoleGameday

Dalvin Cook’s Legacy

Photo by Logan Stanford

On December 31st, 2013, a young high school recruit by the name of Dalvin Cook committed to Florida State.

Cook had previously been committed to both Clemson and Florida during the recruiting process, but flipped to the Seminoles during the annual Under Armour All-American Game. The 5-11, 205-pound running back had been compared to C.J. Spiller, an explosive back who made a living outrunning defenders. Even in a loaded running back class with future superstars like Leonard Fournette and Royce Freeman, Cook was still among the top players. The 247 Composite had Cook ranked as the 13th best player in the nation at the end of the recruiting cycle and the second best running back behind Fournette.

An early enrollee, Cook’s arrival on campus was somewhat overshadowed by Florida State’s celebration of their national championship victory. Normally, an elite recruit arriving on campus would elicit much fanfare, but the crowds gathered in Tallahassee were there to see the returning Heisman trophy winner and the championship trophy. Even a five-star recruit like Dalvin Cook went under the radar in the spring of 2014 as Florida State reloaded for another run at the title.

The beginning of Cook’s career at Florida State was anything but amazing. He didn’t even play in their first game of the season versus Oklahoma State (one of only two games that Cook has not played in during his time at FSU). He played sparingly over their next few games, racking up 128 total yards through five games and two touchdowns.

But there were signs of what could come. Despite being a true freshman, Cook was explosive, dynamic and made the most of his opportunities. Splitting time with Karlos Williams and Mario Pender, those opportunities were few and far between to begin the season. Cook only got one carry in Florida State’s primetime matchup versus Clemson.

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Cook nearly took his first career carry to the house. A simple sweep run from the pony package, Cook was one missed shoelace tackle away from outrunning Citadel to the end zone.

Finally, in the sixth game of the season versus Syracuse, Cook got his time to shine. With Williams sidelined with injury, the true freshman running back carried the ball 23 times, by far the most work load that he had shouldered so far on the season.

The result? 122 yards, a 5.3 yard average and a touchdown.

On that day, on the road in the Carrier Dome, Cook would give Florida State coaches and fans a glimpse at what he would become. He outran Syracuse defenders, ran with good vision and always seemed one missed tackle away from busting a long run.

Cook’s performance on the road against Syracuse would lay the groundwork for an impressive true freshman campaign. Two weeks later, Florida State would travel to Louisville for a tough Thursday night matchup against the Cardinals. Down 21-0 early in the game, the Seminoles didn’t rely on their Heisman trophy winner at quarterback for answers. Instead, it was Cook, a true freshman, who saved the day with long touchdown runs of 40 and 38-yards. Cook finished the game with 110 yards on only nine carries.

Later in the season, the Seminoles traveled to Miami, their long-hated rival and Cook’s hometown team. Again, it was Cook who saved the day and Florida State’s undefeated season. Cook’s 26-yard, tackle-breaking touchdown run with 3:05 left in the game will long live in the memories of Florida State and Miami fans.

But it didn’t stop there. Cook followed it up with a 144-yard performance against Florida, the team he was previously committed to, and 177-yards versus Georgia Tech in the ACC Championship. While the finale versus Oregon in the Rose Bowl will sting to remember, Cook’s freshman season was overall a phenomenal campaign.

From 1996 to 2012, Florida State did not produce a 1,000-yard rusher. Dalvin Cook had 1,008 yards as a true freshman.

Cook’s sophomore season will go down in Florida State record books as perhaps the best season by a running back in school history. He finished with 1,691 yards, 19 touchdowns and averaged 7.4 yards per attempt. With the Seminoles rebuilding after losing many starters to the NFL Draft, Cook made them a contender again. Despite starting Everett Golson and Sean Maguire at quarterback, Cook took this team to unimagined heights and nearly had them in the playoff conversation at the end of the season.

More importantly, Cook redefined what it meant to play running back at Florida State.

A threat to score every time he touched the football, the Miami native routinely embarrassed defenders and ran circles around opposing defensive coordinators. To say Cook looked explosive would not be doing justice to the burst and acceleration that the sophomore running back displayed. But while Cook could outrun nearly everyone to the edge, he also improved as an interior runner. Perhaps Cook’s most underrated feature as a back is his vision and he showed that he was able to pinpoint where the correct hole was, even if Florida State’s offensive line was pushed back into his face.

As a sophomore, Cook saved his biggest performances for when it mattered the most. He torched South Florida (266 yards, 3 TDs), stole Miami’s soul (222 yards, 2 TDs), walloped Louisville (163 yards, 2 TDs), punched Clemson in the nose (194 yards, 1 TD) and embarrassed Florida in the Swamp (183 yards, 2 TDs).

Dalvin Cook became a household name in 2015. In a year where Florida State was going through a rebuilding process, Cook still gave the national media a reason to talk about the ‘Noles. His presence on the roster was a large reason why many predicted that Florida State would return to the College Football Playoff in 2016.

Unfortunately, the Seminoles’ chances of returning to the playoffs were dashed early on. Cook’s junior season, a Heisman-contending year, began with an uncharacteristically slow start. While 228 yards through three games would be great for every other back in the country, Cook did not look like the same explosive player that he was as a sophomore. There were rumors that Cook was still feeling lingering effects from offseason shoulder surgery and those concerns were rectified when he seemed to avoid contact on the field.

But those concerns were forgotten quickly.

Against South Florida, the junior running back set a career high with 267 yards. That started a streak of five straight games with 100+ rushing yards. Despite losing to Clemson, Cook had perhaps the best game of his career with 169 yards and four touchdowns as he single handily willed FSU to a near-upset of the Tigers.

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And now, after rewriting the record books at Florida State and becoming a nationally-known name, Dalvin Cook returns to Syracuse.

The place where this all began two years ago.

Back then, with Cook flanking future No. 1 overall pick Jameis Winston in the backfield, could anyone have predicted that this young player would become the best running back in school history?

With 19 yards on Saturday, Cook will become Florida State’s all-time career rushing leader. He will surpass Warrick Dunn, a legendary player who set many of the records that Cook has broken on his journey in a garnet and gold uniform. Last year, Dunn was present when Cook broke his single-season rushing record.

It seems fitting that Cook’s record breaking run will occur in the Carrier Dome, where his journey began two years ago.

Back then, he was just a freshman trying to prove himself.

Now, he is a nationally known name, a Heisman contender and one of the greatest players to suit up for Florida State.

Dakota Moyer
Florida State student and writer for NoleGameday.

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