Cook excited about return to Death Valley

It's Turkey Day and as family and friends gather together to celebrate what they are thankful for, the Gamecocks and Tigers continue to prepare for their annual battle to decide who will have bragging rights across the Palmetto State for the next 365 days. Many expect this game to be a defensive struggle due to each team's offensive woes. That is just fine as far as Emanuel Cook is concerned.

Emanuel Cook came to South Carolina from Riviera Beach, FL back in 2006 as Steve Spurrier used his name and reputation to draw talent away from the Sunshine State. As a senior in high school, Cook led his team to the 6A state championship, rushing for over 2000 yards and 27 touchdowns. Choosing to play his college ball at the University of South Carolina, Cook became a full-time strong safety and is expected to carry on the Gamecock tradition of placing defensive backs into the NFL where he should play on Sundays for years to come.

Already a junior, the stalwart that is Emanuel Cook has emerged as one of the finest tacklers in the Southeastern Conference. Cook leads his team in tackles this season with 81. His 61 solo tackles leads the league known for its defense. Yet the game this Saturday is not about his individual accomplishments and Cook is aware of that. There is a lot of respect for Clemson and the talent they have on the offensive side of the ball, said Cook. "They've got a pretty fast team. Florida had a pretty fast team. I think Clemson will be the second fastest team we play this year. We're just going to practice hard and prepare for that speed."

This will be Cook's third meeting against the Tigers and he knows what the game means to the fans. "It's going to be a heated battle." Cook was asked if the word ‘hate' was a fair word to describe this rivalry with Clemson. He said that for some people it was. The follow-up question asked him if he was one of those people. "Um... yeah," said Cook with a chuckle.

Clearly the Florida native has embraced the dislike for Clemson felt across the Gamecock Nation. As a freshman, Cook played in his first Palmetto State Battle, and as Todd Ellis described the action with those beautiful words heard across the Midlands, "…and Death Valley is silent," Cook and his teammates left the field victorious. His second game was far less joyous as Jad Dean had used up all of his eligibility and was no longer available to hook it left. Cook says he feeds off the passion of South Carolinians for this rivalry.

"The fans, the atmosphere, the game, the battle. It's intense, it's intense all of the time and it's going to be a really great match up," he said describing the rivalry.

Coming off one of their most humiliating losses, the Gamecocks were trounced by the Florida Gators 56-6 two weeks ago. The vaunted defense was not responsible for many of those points as the offense and special teams assisted Florida to a 21 point lead in the first quarter. That does not take the sting out of it at all for Cook and his defensive cohorts, however. He feels that their reputation has been tainted a bit and is looking forward to re-establishing their swagger this Saturday against the Tigers. "We've got to gain our respect back. A lot of teams lost their respect for us. We've just got to gain it back.

"It definitely bothered us. That's why we're coming out here and practicing hard. I really believe that it pushed our defense and our team to go out here and push harder every week... Every week we've got to get someone."

Among his teammates, Emanuel Cook has a reputation for being a big hitter. Anyone who has watched this young man play realizes that his reputation is warranted. Sophomore Travian Robertson told the media earlier this season that the hardest he had ever been hit was by his teammate E. Cook, who came flying in to assist on a tackle. Cook says that there is a competition on the defense that he relishes. "There is definitely a lot of competition... who is trying to get the next big hit. Everybody is trying to get that next big hit," said Cook with a crooked grin.

As this game shapes up to be a defensive battle with both teams showing inconsistency on offense, Cook has a message for you Gamecock fans. "I think our offense will be able to pull something off this week. I've got a lot of faith in our offense -Smelley, the o-line - we're going to do a good job this week."

There is an excitement and a nip in the air as the biggest event of the year slowly approaches. Why it isn't a state holiday is baffling, but that's a topic for another day. Fans on both sides of the ball are anxious and delighted, fearful and hopeful, and a little saddened that the end of another season of football is upon us. This Saturday at high noon, the state's two biggest programs remind the rest of the country what a rivalry should be, good old-fashioned hatred. There will be promises made to the football gods as thousands across the palmetto state mutter a prayer in hopes of a fumble, an interception, a sack or maybe even some offense.

The Carolina-Clemson game is right around the corner so enjoy your turkey leg and cobbler today because Saturday, you'll have a hard time keeping anything down.

Happy Thanksgiving to all of GamecockAnthem. Here's to a safe holiday to you and yours.

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