COVINGTON, Ga. — If you had a pre-dawn commute to work that took you anywhere between Porterdale and Newton High School, chances are you may have noticed a young man walking faithfully at 5 a.m. each day during the summer and football offseason.
That young man was Jeffery Cook. And it was just his way of showing how dedicated he is, not only to the game of football, but also to the Newton Rams program.
Cook was able to celebrate some of the fruits of his labor when he received a football scholarship offer from Tuskegee last week. His coach, Terrance Banks, also celebrated, just because he knows the work the young man has put in to be the kind of player he is.
“If you knew Jeffery’s story, you’d be inspired too,” Banks said. “He wasn’t able to a lot last year. There was a winter hearing to get him eligible. During the offseason he had some transportation issues, and instead of telling us to come get him, he would walk from Porterdale to Newton at 5 a.m. for our 6 a.m. practices. When we found out, we were able to rectify that, but that’s the kind of dedication he’s putting into things right now.”
And if you ask Cook why he does it, his answer revolves around good, old-fashioned school pride.
“I love the ‘NewtonBoyz’ culture, man,” Cook said. “This culture is something worth coming to, and when I’d seen that, I felt like I had to come over here. I just had to. From the Sound Factory (band) to just the way people bring the energy around here, it’s something that nobody else has, and I wanted to be a part of that.”
Cook also said he felt his going the extra mile — pun intended — was a small price to pay as a response of gratitude for his chance to play the game of football.
“It’s just a thing that everybody’s not blessed enough to have,” Cook said. “To come out here and play the sport is just a blessing. So the fact that I have that blessing and the fact that I have that energy where God allows me to get up every day and be able to make it to practice, the least I can do is do whatever’s necessary to show my appreciation for being blessed to do this.”
And he’s been making the most of his opportunities beyond just the trips to practice.
Before Friday night’s game at Westlake — and despite having only two games of charted stats via Maxpreps.com — Cook actually leads Newton’s defense in tackles for losses and is tied for second on the squad with quarterback sacks.
Against No. 2 Buford last week, he was credited with five total stops, four for losses, five quarterback hurries and 1 1/2 sacks.
But because Newton fell short on the scoreboard against the Wolves, Cook said his individual performance rang a bit hollow for him.
“One thing I tell myself, personally, is my effort wasn’t good enough if we still lost,” Cook said. “Even though someone may say I had a good game, if we lost, my effort wasn’t good enough. And being 100 percent honest, not taking away their credit, but (against Buford), we beat ourselves. It was laziness, missed plays and missed tackles. It wasn’t that they were better than us or the better team. They just showed better effort and executed better than we did.”
Cook’s belief that Newton is a far better team than its record indicates is one reason why he’s fully turned his focus upon finishing strong in his high school career at a new school, despite him showing up on more college recruiting radars.
“I mean, the scholarship feels like some good is coming my way,” he said. “But my personal way of thinking of it is I’ve gotta worry about high school first. I still gotta get through high school before I start worrying about college. Of course I’m blessed to receive the offer, but I gotta worry about now.”
Banks, no doubt, is pleased to have that attitude coming from his 6-foot-3, 225 pound rising star.
“I’m certainly very happy he’s playing well,” Banks said. “I’m very happy for the Tuskegee offer for him. We talked about just giving himself a chance to achieve those things, and when you see it, as a coach, those are things you love.”
As for Cook, the Buffalo, New York native and long-time Covington area resident just wants to see his love for the game increase.
“There ain’t nothing like football,” Cook said. “The vibe, the energy. Nothing like it. Just being able to express yourself and the field, there’s no better feeling. I love it, and like I said earlier, I’m just blessed to play this sport.”