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Perseverance pays for Cooks

The former Crystal River football standout was "in-the-bed homesick'' at college in California, but he stayed and now heads for bigger and better things in West Virginia.

By ANTONYA ENGLISH

© St. Petersburg Times, published May 17, 2000


CRYSTAL RIVER -- Shortly before he left his hometown of Crystal River for college in Fresno, Calif., Anthony Cooks received some friendly advice from his former high school football coach:

Don't yield to the temptation to come back home.

Earl Bramlett warned Cooks that being away from home was going to be a big adjustment. What Bramlett couldn't adequately convey was how much of an adjustment being more than 3,000 miles away from family would be.

"I had always been in Crystal River," Cooks said last week while sitting in Bramlett's office. "I never left the state until I went out there. I wasn't scared, but I knew I was going to be homesick. It was tough to get used to."

Bramlett said he counsels all of his athletes about surviving away from home.

"You try to prepare them and tell them, but unless you've gone through it, you don't really know how it's going to be," Bramlett said. "In Anthony's situation, it was a case of even if I have a long weekend, I still can't go home. It will be Christmas before I can go home. You see no end to the rainbow."

Just how homesick was Cooks?

"We're talking in-the-bed homesick," he said. "Every day after class or practice, I would just go get in the bed. Every day, just rolling around in bed, like wow, I miss home. I called home all the time. Every day. I was on the phone every day. I had to talk to somebody back home. But I knew I had to overcome that."

He overcame it by reminding himself that his goals in life extended far beyond walking the streets of Crystal River. He persevered, and it has paid off.

Two years after leaving for Reedley College in California, Cooks will leave home again in August. This time he's headed to Fairmont State College in West Virginia on a full athletic scholarship. Fairmont State is the largest Division II school in the state.

"I knew that if I came back here there would be nothing for me but work, and I didn't want to just do that," Cooks said. "I wanted to keep playing football. I saw everybody else doing the same thing (staying around town) and I thought, "No, I can't do that. I have a chance to be somebody.' So I just stuck it out. That was it."

Cooks, 22, will play cornerback and some receiver for the Falcons while majoring in business administration.

"I had a bunch of choices, but Fairmont offered me a full scholarship and the rest were offering me a little bit of money, then I had to come up with some more money," Cooks said. "I liked their record (8-2) and the coach said they had a pretty good chance to go to a championship next year, so I liked that too."

For three seasons, the 5-foot-8, 170-pound Cooks was a standout member of the Crystal River football team. Considered one of the best safeties to ever play for the Pirates, he could break games open with anything from an interception return for a touchdown or a reverse out of the wing-T.

Cooks was the 1996 Gulf Coast Athletic Conference Player of the Year and a member of the Times Super Seniors. He also was a first-team All-North Suncoast kick returner.

His sophomore season at Crystal River, he alternated at wingback while also returning kicks. It was during his junior year that he moved to cornerback.

In his senior season, Cooks had 41 rushing attempts for 411/2 yards and seven touchdowns. He caught nine passes for 149 yards (16.6 average) and had one touchdown. As a punt returner, he was 9-for-96 (10.7-yard average) and he returned nine kickoffs for 372 yards, a 41.3 average.

Cooks scored 66 points, and as a cornerback he had three interceptions for 53 yards.

According to Crystal River assistant coach Jere DeFoor, Cooks was so dedicated he never missed a practice in three seasons.

"He's probably the best one, for his size, that we've had come through here," Bramlett said. "He has great quickness, sprint speed and toughness. He would knock your butt off. He could play linebacker, safety or anywhere on the field."

At Reedley, the first year of college competition was tough for Cooks. The junior college ranks are filled with talented players, many of whom would be playing Division I football if not for needing qualifying SAT scores.

There is no pampering of athletes. Either you cut it or you're done.

"A lot of guys came in with me and a bunch of them went out that same night," Cooks said. "Coming from high school, you had to watch a lot of film, the schooling was different, everything was different."

Cooks played cornerback at Reedley for a couple of days of practice, then was moved to safety. He said it took about four games to get used to Reedley's system.

The second year was much better. Reedley went 6-5 and earned a bowl bid. Cooks was a first-team all-Northern California selection at cornerback.

He said the lessons he learned at Reedley will serve him well at Fairmont.

"They taught me different things on defense and a whole bunch of fundamentals," he said. "They taught me some things I know I can use at Fairmont."

Cooks' mother, Brenda Lockley, never got a chance to see him play in California, just videotapes of his performances. But he said because West Virginia is much closer, his family will be able to see a few games.

Cooks said he plans to work out extremely hard this summer to make sure he's in shape for fall practice. In the meantime, he'll enjoy his summer at home, mindful of the fact it's only temporary.

"I'm happy that I went off to college," he said. "When you come back home you feel good about it."

After Cooks committed to Fairmont State, Bramlett received a call from head coach Doug Sams, who told him that if he had any more athletes like Cooks, he wanted to have them.

"That's a great compliment," Bramlett said. "That tells you the kind of person he is.

"He gave us some great years here, then he went away and had his goals set. He could have come home and stayed, but he had his priorities in order and we're really, really proud of him."

Where are they now?

This summer, the Citrus Times would like to catch up with a number of former Citrus County athletes who have gone away to college. We'd like to share with readers how these athletes have fared and what they are doing now. If you know one of them -- or if you are a former athlete back home -- please call Antonya English at 860-7337 or Carey Freeman at 860-7331.

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