CROWLEY - Louie Cook, an accomplished football coach who spent eight years at Southwestern Louisiana, then coached Crowley High to three state title games in the Superdome, has lived in nearby Rayne for most of his life.
He also deserves some credit for helping out LSU. Back in the mid-1990s, Cook was with one of his kids one day when he spotted a young Josh Reed, another Rayne native, cutting across a field.
It seemed that Reed had decided to stop playing football that season, egged on by his basketball coach to give it up so he could focus solely on the hardcourt.
Though he had no underlying motives, Cook took Reed aside and had a brief-but-frank conversation with him.
"I told Josh the best basketball player that ever came out of Rayne wound up at Louisiana College," Cook remembers. "It's nothing against basketball, it's so much harder to succeed in it. But I said, 'You've got a future in football. One day, you could play football for LSU or whoever.'"
The rest, as they say, is history. Reed, back in his hometown recently, sneaked up behind Cook and affectionately head-locked him.
"Coach, how did you know I was going to play for LSU one day?" Reed asked.
Always the coach, Cook reminded Reed that no one made is possible but Reed himself.
Nowadays, Cook is aware of another youngster who will soon become a Tiger as well. But Louie Cook, now the coach of the defending 3A state champion Notre Dame Pioneers, doesn't have to travel far to speak with him. The youngster is his own son - a 5-foot-11, 192-pound athlete named Jeff, who gave his verbal commitment in a 20-minute meeting with coach Nick Saban.
"It was kind of hard just to get it out," Cook told the Baton Rouge Advocate. "I kind of stuttered. But I'm fired up. It's kind of amazing, really."
Sitting in his dad's office before baseball practice, Jeff happily spoke with Tiger Rag about his football team's title year, playing baseball and the recruiting process, which his father delayed in a way.
Playing on a private-school team that gave no scholarships to its players - and with 32 seniors, none of whom signed letters of intent to play Division I football anywhere - Jeff, a quarterback, helped his team to a 14-1 record that had its share of blowouts and unthinkable nail-biters. After the Pioneers finished off Breaux Bridge in the playoffs, they were set to meet high-scoring Redemptorist for the state title.
Behind the powerful legs of Shelton Sampson and David Plaisance, Redemptorist had averaged more than 41 points per game in 14 contests. Against the Pioneers, the Wolves never crossed the goal line. Notre Dame scored 14 fourth-quarter points to win the championship, 14-6
Redemptorist did have its chances, though. Even on the last play of the game, a Hail Mary, Sampson had his hand on the ball after two Notre Dame defenders collided while trying to knock down the pass. Sampson appeared to have a clear chance at the desperation touchdown pass in the east end zone of the Superdome, but Jeff Cook stepped in at the right time.
"I just grabbed his arms," Jeff says smiling. "The ball was tipped, so it was anybody's ball. I just wanted to make sure he couldn't get it."
Nicky Briggs, the game MVP, stepped in to intercept the pass and secure the win.
Jeff, who passed for over 1,900 yards, 20 touchdowns and six interceptions last season, started to receive letters from big-time college football programs - including Alabama, the University of Notre Dame, Texas and Auburn, to name a few - during his junior season. But curiously, he never saw them until the season was over.
"Yeah, my dad kept all those letters in that drawer," he says, pointing to his father's desk. "I think he wanted me to stay focused."
Like so many other recruits who are currently juniors at their respective high schools, Cook was on campus Jan. 24 for a visit with Saban and his staff and an LSU men's basketball game against Mississippi State. Though he was impressed and enjoyed himself, he didn't think much of his own stature until the end of the rendezvous. That was when Saban pulled him aside for a private conversation about school, football and baseball.
"That's when I really felt like it was big," Jeff says, "because he didn't do that with everybody."
Saban told him he liked what he had seen from Cook and was thinking of offering him a scholarship. Saban also said the possibility of Jeff playing baseball for LSU would not be a problem with him. (Jeff met with the Tigers' coach-to-be,