Stone Mountain gem

Tennessee is hitting familiar territory in pursuing one of America's top center prospects for its 2011 signing class.

The Vols are among the schools recruiting Tarik Cook, a 6-2, 290-pounder from Stephenson High School in Stone Mountain, Ga. Scout rates him the country's No. 8 center prospect and a 3-star recruit.

Tennessee's roster already features two linebackers from Stone Mountain - 2009 signees Nigel Mitchell-Thornton and Robert Nelson. Mitchell-Thornton is an alumnus of Stephenson High.

"I know him," Cook said of Mitchell-Thornton, "but we don't talk that much. That won't really affect my decision."

Tarik (pronounced tuh-REEK) attended UT's recent Lineman Camp but as a spectator, not as a participant.

"I didn't do anything. I just watched the O-line coach and got to meet him," Cook said. "Coach (Harry) Hiestand is pretty cool. He seems like he really knows what he's doing, plus he came from the NFL."

Although he has played a little at guard, Cook said most schools are recruiting him as a center.

"I played guard a few times," he said. "Only one school is recruiting me as a guard, and that's Ole Miss."

In addition to the Rebels, Cook said he is being recruited most heavily by Tennessee, South Carolina, Kentucky, South Florida, Central Florida, Western Kentucky and Buffalo.

Describing his approach as "aggressive," Cook added: "I have a great power base and hands, nice feet and a great pass set. I'm a leader on the football field as a center."

Although center is a grueling position that involves a lot of work and very little recognition, he enjoys playing there.

"Playing center you get to be a leader," he said. "You've got to have the quickest hands on the field because you've got to snap the ball and then get in position to block. You have to be a good all-around player."

Asked if he has played any defense, he replied: "Not in awhile."

Cook says he recorded 15 pancake blocks last fall, along with "a lot of key blocks that helped us win a lot of games."

Apparently so. Stephenson High outscored its opponents 429-59 en route to an 11-0 start last season before suffering a 22-21 loss to Colquitt County in Round 2 of the state playoffs.

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