By Raj Sagar,
Virginia Athletics Media Relations
Timing is a concept that is central to football. The success or failure of each play quite literally is predicated on people being in the right place, at the right time. Chances for big plays only present themselves so often throughout a game, and it is the best players who have a unique ability of being an opportunist. Throughout his career, Cavaliers’ senior cornerback Chris Cook has made the most of his chances.
Though he now plays on the defensive side of the ball, Chris Cook was once the player his team relied on to put points on the board. A multi-position standout at Heritage High School in Lynchburg, Va., Cook played running back, wide receiver, and quarterback in addition to cornerback for coach Chris Jones. At 6-feet-2, 210 pounds, Cook possesses a unique blend of size and speed that made him a threat on every single play, no matter where he lined up on the field. As a senior, Cook displayed his ability to find ‘paydirt’ time and time again as he totaled 21 total touchdowns (12 rushing, three receiving and six passing) for the Pioneers.
“Playing all the different positions in high school was a ton of fun,” Cook said. “I got to see a number of different looks from all over the field on offense, and that’s allowed me to understand my position on defense better now. I think I have a better feel because I had been executing plays on the other side of the ball too.”
Not only an offensive threat, Cook was also a defensive stalwart throughout his high school career as he often shut down opposing receivers. Cook earned his first of two all-state honors as a junior defensive back when he had 50 tackles and eight interceptions.
“I just try to be in the best position possible when I’m defending routes,” Cook said. “The ball doesn’t always come your way, but you want to work hard to have an opportunity to make big play at any point.”
Having contributed at nearly every position other than down-lineman, Cook has seen first-hand the importance of individual matchups, anywhere on the football field.
“It doesn’t really matter if you play offense, defense, or special teams,” Cook said. “The game comes down to 11 guys winning the battle against the man across from you and taking advantage of opportunities for takeaways and scores. If you are able to execute at a high level throughout the game, your team is more likely to come out on top.”
Having established himself as an all-around football player, Cook decided to take his ability on the field to the University of Virginia. It was a man central to his upbringing on the gridiron – the coach of his recreation youth league team – that urged Cook to choose Virginia over other programs.
“My grandfather, Albert Rose, was a big factor in my decision to come here,” Cook said. “He told me what a great chance this was for me. All I wanted to do from there was get opportunities early and compete for championships.”
Cook would indeed get the early chance on the field he was after as he found himself lined up at cornerback in just the fourth game of his freshman season. Cook admittedly had to play through his rookie nerves.
“One of the first times I had gone out on defense, I lined up over the slot receiver on my side instead of the wide out,” said Cook. “I still remember [then captain safety] Tony [Franklin] yelling at me to get out wide. Once I got over those initial nerves, I was able to settle in.”
Settle in may be a bit of an understatement. Once Cook parlayed his hard work in practice into an opportunity to get on the field, he made the very most of his chance. When the ball finally came his way, he intercepted it and returned it 30 yards for a touchdown. Wasting no time, Cook made his presence felt as he displayed his ability to make the big play. In only the fifth game on his career in 2005, Cook drew the starting cornerback job.
“To get a chance to get on the field that early was great for me,” Cook said. “To get exposure at that point in my career is something I was very proud of.”
With five interceptions, 16 pass breakups and 120 tackles for his career, Cook has found ways to use his strength to disrupt receivers.
“I like to get up to the line, and beat up the smaller receivers,” Cook said. “If you can move someone at the line, you will be in a better position on that play.”
His relentless, physical style of play is evident each time Cook takes the field. His drive and determination are defining of his approach to game, and his vocal leadership culminated this year as he was voted one of the team’s six captains by his teammates.
Despite being away from the team in 2008, Cook has embraced the opportunity to set the tone not only for the defense, but for the team as a whole.
“After missing last year, just getting the chance to play again is the best thing that has ever happened to me. Being named a captain is an incredible honor for me,” Cook said. “It really showed me how much faith these guys have in me, and I embrace being put in the position to lead the team.”
It is a good situation for Cook, as well as his Cavalier teammates – he certainly knows how to make the most of his chances.