Cook heads to the NFL

USC tight end and first-team All-SEC pick received best grade of USC juniors

jperson@thestate.comJanuary 8, 2009 

Jared Cook hauls in a Chris Smelley pass for the Gamecocks' lone touchdown against Iowa in the second half.

ERIK CAMPOS/ECAMPOS@THESTATE.COM

Steve Spurrier once compared South Carolina tight end Jared Cook to Calvin Johnson, the former Georgia Tech receiver who was the second overall pick in the 2007 draft.

Cook might not go as high as Johnson, but the redshirt junior from Suwanee, Ga., feels good enough about his prospects that he will forego his final year of eligibility and enter the April draft, his father told The State on Wednesday.

The move seemed to be a formality, especially after the 6-foot-5, 240-pound Cook received the best grade of the Gamecocks’ underclassmen who asked the NFL’s advisory committee for an evaluation.

But Carl Cook said the close-knit family discussed and prayed about the decision before finalizing it.

“We talked about it at length and kind of looked at the advantages. It was a hard decision because Jared has really enjoyed being in Columbia and he’s so close to graduating,” Carl Cook said. “It was a tough decision, but we prayed about it and feel like it’s a good time to enter the draft.”

Cook becomes the third USC junior headed to the NFL, joining defensive backs Emanuel Cook and Captain Munnerlyn. It is believed to be the first time in school history three juniors have left early for the NFL.

Linebacker Eric Norwood announced after the Outback Bowl that he was leaving but changed his mind last weekend. Spur linebacker Darian Stewart has told coaches he will be back.

Attempts to reach Jared Cook were unsuccessful.

Spurrier said this week the advisory committee predicted Cook would be picked higher than USC’s other juniors. Spurrier would not specify where Cook was projected but said it was not the first round.

“It was a privilege to coach Jared. He was an extremely hard worker both on and off the field,” USC tight ends coach Ray Rychleski said. “I would have loved for him to stay, but I definitely understand why he’s leaving. ... He’s ready.”

Most draft experts have Cook slotted as a second-round pick, although Cook could improve his stock with a strong showing at the combine and his individual workouts.

Cook ran the 40-yard dash in 4.37 seconds two years ago at USC, prompting Spurrier to compare him to Johnson, another tall, fast receiver.

Cook, a semifinalist for the Mackey Award given to the nation’s top tight end, was the Gamecocks’ second-leading receiver behind Kenny McKinley with 37 catches for 573 yards and three touchdowns. His 15.5-yards per catch average led the team, and he was a first-team All-SEC selection by the league’s coaches.

Rychleski expects Cook to perform well at the combine in the 40, bench press and other drills and believes he will impress NFL scouts and executives in the interview process.

“He has character and he has the want-to, and he’s a gentleman on the field and off the field, and those things count for a lot, too,” Rychleski said.

Rychleski encouraged Cook to train in Columbia and finish the 12 hours he needs to complete his retailing degree. Carl Cook said his son likely would dedicate his time to draft preparation but plans to return to USC and get his diploma.

“He’s accomplished a lot of goals, but now it’s time to move on,” Rychleski said. “I’d be lying to tell you I wish he wasn’t staying. But everyone has to do what’s best for them, and we’ll be watching him on Sundays, hopefully.”

Reach Person at (803) 771-8496.

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