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Jeff Sentell/DawgNation
James Cook, the nation's No. 3 running back for 2018, enjoyed his official visit to UGA.

How did James Cook’s mother describe his UGA official visit? ‘Bananas’

Want to attack every day with the latest Georgia football recruiting info? That’s what the Intel will bring at least five days a week. The budget today calls for a James Cook official visit recap with help from a very good source: his mother, Varondria Burnett.

How did things go with the nation’s No. 3 running back prospect for 2018? Read on. 


James Cook isn’t much for words. There’s a highly competitive side to Cook. His temper can flare up when challenged. It has.

But there’s an inner shell that is both shy and sweet.

Cook doesn’t mind going head up on a noseguard in an old-school “Oklahoma” drill, but he still is reluctant to grant in-person interview requests. How to best describe him? A touchdown machine/wallflower.

Georgia coach Kirby Smart noticed that on his official visit last weekend. His mother, Varondria Burnett, admits she has to pry the words out sometimes.

James Cook-UGA recruiting
James Cook took his first official visit to UGA over the weekend. It went very well. (Jeff Sentell/DawgNation)

Smart asked her if James was tired. He probably was.

Cook didn’t get settled after his Friday night game at Miami Central until about midnight and had little sleep before his flight to Georgia.

Still, he is naturally reserved. There are moments where his mother just has to read him. If she wants words, then she must play reporter to find out what he’s thinking.

“I let him feel comfortable,” she said. “Whenever he is ready to talk to me, he will tell me he wants to talk to me and then he starts talking. He starts doing that, and I will just start talking back. … If that happens before he is ready, I will just get a lot of ‘yes’ and ‘no’ with that.”

Cook’s first official to Georgia was like that. They flew home to South Florida on Monday. Their plane landed and she dropped him off in time to practice with his powerhouse Miami Central team.

It was not an earth-moving visit. That one occurred in June.

Cook and his family already know Georgia well, where it seems they are already among family. The weekend went pretty much according to the “cool” expectations they had coming in. 

That’s not to say there weren’t a few new memories.

“James enjoys being with the players there,” his mother said. “When he is there, he just seems like he is at home.”

The ‘wow’ for James Cook on his official visit

The first big takeaway came at the game. It occurred while Team Cook was sitting on the front row of the recruiting bleachers.

DawgNation was doing its thing. The decibels rang out when the Bulldogs gave their SEC West cousins a few new fleas. Jake Fromm to Terry Godwin triggered the first eruption.

James Cook-UGA recruiting
James Cook asked his mother how loud Sanford Stadium was compared to Doak Campbell Stadium at Florida State. (Jeff Sentell/DawgNation)

It was a perfect recruiting script. Both plays came in an end zone that might have housed the greatest collection of 4-star and 5-star recruits in Georgia recruiting history.

Cook asked his mother a question sometime after that.

“Do you think this stadium is louder than Doak?” he said.

Burnett said yes. Emphatically.

She cited a couple of reasons but also knew Sanford Stadium was bigger than Florida State’s Doak Campbell Stadium by about 15,000 fans.

That’s where Cook’s older brother, Dalvin, set the Florida State all-time rushing record in just three seasons. That led to his second-round selection by the Minnesota Vikings in the 2017 NFL Draft.

James committed to Florida State in March 2016, then he de-committed on July 4 of this year.

“It was way too early for him to do that,” Varondria Burnett says now of that commitment.

She said she wishes  her son had waited longer. Burnett even mentioned the way that 5-star UGA commitment Zamir White timed his decision.

It always made more sense to her to commit right before his senior season.

Burnett would know. Dalvin Cook committed to Clemson, then to Florida and then to Florida State.

That’s what the family hopes to avoid this time.

The next commitment, no matter what, should take place on Dec. 20. Burnett made sure to share that timeline with every coach who is still actively recruiting her son. They all know that.

How did the rest of that James Cook visit go? 

Burnett went mostly to ACC games with Dalvin in his career. Dalvin’s Seminoles played a few crossover games with SEC schools such as Florida and Ole Miss.

Saturday was different. It was the first SEC game for her in an actual SEC venue.

“When I tell you it was bananas, it was exactly that,” she said. “The crowd was bananas. It was crazy. The atmosphere was crazy. I love college football and the camaraderie with the players and families and coaches and parents. I just love everything about that. Just an amazing time. It was awesome.”

That was her favorite part. She surmised that James would say the same. Most definitely.

James Cook-UGA recruiting
James Cook ranks as the nation’s No. 35 overall prospect for 2018. (Jeff Sentell/DawgNation)

“I loved the game,” she said. “I loved the ‘Dawgwalk,’ and I just loved everything about that game.”

Burnett even recorded the new “Krypton Fanfare” cell phone tradition on her Snapchat. Her recruiting host had coached her up about that. She wanted to know all the Georgia chants and traditions.

Most official visits have that “wow” moment or a “whoa” statement from a coach that really hit home for a recruit and his family.

They won’t remember one of those from last weekend. Cook and his family point to a different moment from the summer.

That’s when Georgia running backs coach Dell McGee saw how Burnett acted with her son. He saw how she had to get him to speak up at times and to answer questions.

Burnett was frustrated because she sees “amazing potential” in her son. She thinks he can be the young man, once he gets rolling, to give speeches to his future team before big games. It might happen in the locker room or even on the practice field on Tuesdays.

McGee took all of that in. Then, according to Burnett, he said something she never expected any coach to say on a recruiting visit.

It was basically: Trust me with your baby. I’ll make him the man you want him to be. 

“He told me that if I would allow him to coach James and if I trusted him with coaching him and being a big part of his life, then he would do everything he could to make sure James became the man that I knew he could be. He said he wanted to be the guy that brings all of that out in James.”

The Bulldogs were in the thick of the race for Cook after that.

The little things matter with James Cook

Cook celebrated his 18th birthday on Monday. That day started while he was still on his official visit to UGA. The Georgia coaches presented him with a cake. They sang to him and all that.

Was Smart off key? Did McGee take on a Barry White-typesolo? Those details are not available until after the freshman year. (That’s a joke, folks.)

“It was so nice,” his mother said. “I really appreciate that. It was awesome.”

Picture any teenager in that moment. Now jack the embarrassment up about five more notches for an 18-year-old with a shy side.

He gave his mother one of those “You did not” looks when that cake came out.

“We were in there in one of those conference rooms,” Burnett said. “Coach Smart did tell me they were going to bring a cake in there. It was just so funny because everyone knew how he was going to react to that. James is just so predictable. He doesn’t like a lot of people making a big deal about him or anything like that.”

James Cook and his family really stressed over his de-commitment from Florida State. That’s why he does not want to rush his next commitment. (Jeff Sentell/DawgNation)

The story behind his very first day in the world also seems significant.

Or at least very fitting.

“James was a breech birth,” his mother said. “He was coming out feet first and he was kicking me so bad. When I went to that doctor that week, they told me, ‘Wow, he’s going to come out feet first.’ I wasn’t going to have him until the following week but he was kicking me so bad and I was in so much pain.”

That was the tricky part. The doctors couldn’t turn him around.

“If he would have tried to come out, they said it was a possibility of the umbilical cord getting wrapped around so I had to go into an emergency C-section,” she said.

It was a trying time then. It would be for any parent. She can laugh about that now.

The nation’s No. 3 RB with the pistons pumping for legs was going to want to come out feet first. Naturally.

“That’s exactly as it should be,” she says now. “That is funny.”

Miss any Intel? The DawgNation recruiting archive will get you up to speed faster than Georgia All-America candidate Roquan Smith can find the football after the snap.

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