Cook seems poised for breakout season

The UK staff is extremely high on sophomore wideout Tommy Cook after an impressive spring showing...

LEXINGTON, Ky. --- Being compared to a household appliance wouldn't ordinarily be considered a compliment to most athletes.

When that metaphor is something that catches everything in its path, and the player is a wide receiver, that's a different story.

Such is the case for Kentucky's Tommy Cook, a sophomore wideout who UK coach Guy Morriss described as a "Hoover" vacuum cleaner due to his impressive play this spring.

"He's been sucking up everything," Morriss said. "He's really had a great spring. It seems like in every practice or every scrimmage he's made at least one or two big plays for us. He just picked up where he left off for us last year."

Cook's success story blossomed in the final three weeks of the 2001 season as the Wildcats' offense began to click on all cylinders. The 6-foot, 190-pound native of Victoria, Tex., caught 14 of his 20 receptions during that stretch, including a five catches for 77 yards and his first two collegiate touchdowns in a win at Vanderbilt and a career-high seven catches for 115 yards at Indiana.

"The last four or five games really helped me," Cook said. "That's when I started to get to play a lot. I had to bide my time and make the most of the opportunity when it came along. When that came around, I didn't want to look back, I wanted to take it and run with it."

When spring practice opened on March 26, it was as if he'd never skipped a beat.

"It's been a great spring for the whole wide receiver corps, not just myself," said Cook, taking the modest approach indicative of his style. "We all came out here wanting to improve on all the little things and look crisp and sharp as a group. I think we've achieved that.

"It was a lot easier this spring. Things came a lot more natural. Knowing the offense makes all the difference in the world. When you're comfortable, you don't have to think, you just go out and play."

And make plays. Routine catches, tough grabs in traffic, acrobatic snares that caused everyone at the Nutter Training Center to stop and take notice. Cook has done it all this spring.

"Playing receiver and catching the football is really a lot about confidence, and right now you can look and see a really confident player," Morriss said.

"When I throw the ball to No. 17, I know he's coming down with it," said junior quarterback Jared Lorenzen, who along with Cook has dazzled practice observers.

"The way Jared's throwing the ball is so unbelievable," Cook said. "He can throw it anywhere he wants right now, and only where the receiver is going to get it. That makes it real exciting for me."

Kentucky receivers coach Harold Jackson's eyes light up when he speaks of Cook and the strides he has made this spring. Jackson was hesitant to toss out too many accolades last spring --- as UK's receiver corps struggled to pick up the new system and was plagued by numerous dropped balls --- but he now uses glowing terms when talking about Cook.

"Tommy Cook has turned himself into a player," Jackson said. "He has worked himself into that position. If he keeps doing what he's been doing, he's going to be a great player before he leaves here.

"He has great work ethic and great recall. We talk about recall a lot. It's something every great athlete has to have. Once you do something, he can come back and repeat it and do it exactly the way you want it done. That's very important, and it shows a lot to me about the kind of ballplayer Tommy Cook wants to be."

Jackson, who spent 16 years in the NFL and was a five-time All-Pro, said he sees that "something extra" in Cook that all the great players have.

"He's somebody that's always doing something on the side," Jackson said. "He tries to get as much work done as possible. Some days he may catch a hundred extra balls. That's the kind of thing you have to do if you want to be great."

"He's also been one of the leaders out on the field. He's stepped up and taken charge. Some things that I may not be able to get through to guys, he explains it to them. It's like having another coach on the field."

Cook reminds Jackson of a current self-made NFL star.

"He reminds me of Wayne Chrebet, the wide receiver from the (New York) Jets," Jackson said. "That's a guy who made himself into a player through hard work and determination; a guy with great hands and plays fearless."

"That's an incredible compliment coming from a guy who's been at that level," Cook said. "But you can't ever settle or let comments like that go to your head. You've got to come out here and try to get better every day."

"Coach Jackson expects a lot from you. And when a coach does that, you have to go out and perform. I think that's what I've been doing."

Cook has spent this spring trying to refine his game. It didn't take him long to learn that doing the little things was a big key in the eyes of the current UK coaching staff.

"I really wanted to work on running crisper routes and getting my timing down on the deep ball better," Cook said. "I want to bring that to the table. You have to have some diversity in your route-running or people can just key on one thing.

"They knew I had enough speed to do it. It was just a matter of getting my routes and timing down better."

"He can go down the field," Jackson said. "He's in between that possession-type receiver and the deep guy. But a lot of people are going to be surprised if they don't think he can get deep."

Always mindful of becoming a complete player, he also strives to be a strong blocker. Several times over the course of the spring a nice gain was made possible by Cook leveling a defender.

"It's a team game. That's what it's all about," Cook said. "When you watch film and see somebody break a big run, there's almost always a great block by a wide receiver. You don't want to be the guy on film that kept a big play from happening. We pride ourselves on that."

"We take pride in blocking, sticking our face in there and mixing it up, and Tommy's at the top of the list," Jackson said. "We come in every Sunday (after games) and look at how many cuts our guys got. We challenge every one of them that they're not going to let their guy take a shot. You've got to stay with them until the back or whoever runs by them. And that's your chance to pay some of those guys back. You get to do some of the hitting then, and I know Tommy likes that. He loves the contact."

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