Even if James Cook wasn’t physically at the Peach Bowl, Georgia made sure his presence was very much felt.
Georgia running backs coach Dell McGee coached in Cook’s black No. 4 jersey. After running back Zamir White scored a 9-yard touchdown, he held up four fingers to honor his close friend.
TOUCHDOWN BULLDOGS 🙌
Zamir White scores and holds up four fingers in honor of teammate James Cook, whose father died earlier this week. pic.twitter.com/MG54RkDeWe
— ESPN College Football (@ESPNCFB) January 1, 2021
After the win, Georgia wide receiver Kearis Jackson showed Cook what the inside of the Georgia locker room was like after a dramatic 24-21 win over the Cincinnati Bearcats.
they called James Cook into the locker room brb 😭😭😭 pic.twitter.com/nMMzRFpNLu
— Jamie Han (@jamiehan) January 1, 2021
Cook was not at the game because of the tragic passing of his father earlier in the week. Cook, along with his brother Dalvin who plays for the Minnesota Vikings, flew home to Miami to be with family.
Without Cook, the Georgia running game certainly had its struggles. The Bulldogs ran for just 45 yards on 24 carries, with Cincinnati’s defensive line getting the best of Georgia’s offensive front.
But Georgia fans and observers got a great look at how much Cook the person means to the Georgia program.
“He’s a leader, he’s a worker. You never hear him complain,” quarterback JT Daniels said. “He’s always doing the right thing. When something bad happens to someone good like that, it sits with you. It was something that us as a team, we all thought about it.
“You saw Coach Dell with the 4 jersey. “That’s how much Cook means to us, how much we’re there for him when he needs it. We know he’d be there for us if we need him.”
— Zamir White (@zeus1_34) January 1, 2021
Daniels added that he has become close with Cook in the months since the former arrived at Georgia. He compared him to a brother and noted that Cook was one of the first people to try and make Daniels feel more comfortable in his new surroundings in Athens.
In eight games this season with Georgia, Cook ran for 303 yards while adding 225 receiving yards. He scored five touchdowns in eight games for Georgia and made big plays in games against Alabama and Kentucky.
Cook wasn’t the only Bulldog to be missing from the field on Friday. Ben Cleveland, Tre’ McKitty, Monty Rice, DJ Daniel and Eric Stokes all declared for the NFL draft and opted-out of the game. The Bulldogs were also without Mark Webb due to injury.
Nakobe Dean revealed that Travon Walker missed the game due to COVID-19 and Georgia coach Kirby Smart made it clear that Georgia was almost with Lewis Cine as well.
Georgia wanted to play for Cook. To play for the seniors, who tied the school record for most wins in a career. For the likes of Azeez Ojulari, who certainly looked like an NFL player on Friday with 3.0 sacks against Cincinnati.
“We had a lot of guys couldn’t be here, guys that went through trials and tribulations,” defensive back Chris Smith said. “It was great for us to be able to get the win for them and Azeez.”
With the win, Georgia finishes the season at 8-2 and seems poised to end the season ranked in the top-10. The Bulldogs weren’t perfect against Cincinnati, but the 2020 season as a whole was imperfect.
Through it all, Georgia continued to fight. Something the likes of Cook and so many other have done all season.
“We had to buckle down, fight through adversity,” Dean said. “It’s something we’ve been doing this whole pandemic, doing that the past four or five months. It wasn’t much, just keep fighting and persevere.”
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