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BRADENTON, Fla. — James Cook flashed a few “oh my” moments in a clash with No. 2 IMG Academy on Friday night. The nation’s No. 3 RB wound up with 79 yards on 14 carries against a defense flush with 4-and-5 star prospects.
Cook, a big-time UGA recruiting target, bolted for a 22-yard score to help Miami Central build a 9-0 lead. The game was delayed 20 seconds into play by lightning flashes in the area.
It sparked an approximate 90-minute pause before play resumed in IMG’s eventual 24-15 win. The game did not end until 11:55 p.m. on Friday night.
It bothered him to lose. Central saw a chance to stake a claim for the mythical national title this year.
“We’ve just go to go back and get better,” Cook said. “Let that game go from out of our heads and come back and keep working.”
The lengthy delay threw a wrinkle into his first official visit. Cook will be at UGA today, but he just didn’t know how last night.
“I’m not sure yet where we are going to fly in from,” Cook said. “My Mom and I will figure all of that out.”
What’s the expectation for this visit? For starters, Cook and his family do not expect to make a commitment this weekend. Or on any of his official visits.
Cook seems to have an eye on a public decision in December.
“My finish line is in December,” said Cook, who will enroll early after his time at the U.S. Army All-American game. “I’m going to wait until then.”
The official will last through Monday. Cook, the brother of former FSU great and current Minnesota Viking Dalvin Cook, plans to take all five of his officials.
FSU and Louisville are in great shape on that front. USC now seems in line to get the fourth.
As it stands now, his fifth official visit could go to either Auburn or LSU.
James Cook previews his UGA official visit
What does he need to see in Athens? Cook played that one cool.
“Nothing really,” said Cook, who could not remember exactly how many trips he’s taken to Georgia now.
That is how his mother feels about the trip, too.
“This visit is going to be cool because we’ve been there before,” Varondria Burnett said. “They are like family to us. Georgia is like family to us. We are just going to go there, have a good time, watch the ‘Dogs and see just what they have.”
He seems intrigued by the stable of backs Georgia might have for 2018. Zamir White, the nation’s No. 1 RB for 2018, is already committed.
The nation’s No. 1 RB for this cycle will also be in town this weekend.
“We could be pretty good there together,” he said. “I can see that.”
Cook plans to study Business or Sports Management. Georgia has a good mesh there with those academic goals.
That also intrigues.
“You need to be a student-athlete,” Cook said. “I realize a player has to be smart, too.”
Burnett feels James might be stressing internally about this. But he did not express that on Friday night.
“All of this is a blessing,” Cook said. “This isn’t stressful and I’m not really tight about it. I still have to look at certain things and discuss those over with my Mom.”
It helps to know a few things about James Cook
Cook had a great visit over the summer to Georgia. Burnett is still stunned by how well that went.
“To be honest, it is hard to pick his brain about how close all of this is with the other schools,” she said. “But I know he loves Georgia. When he came back from Georgia this summer, I was stunned by how he acted. I was like ‘What happened to you?’ because I know he fell in love with that school.”
That’s why she had to visit. She had to see what her son did.
“I was like ‘What did they do to my son to make him fall in love with this school? and then I really saw,” she said. “I went there and saw it. I mean this isn’t my first rodeo. My son went off and played for Florida State. I’ve been through this. I know what schools do to entice you. But Georgia didn’t talk bad about this school or that school. They didn’t do any of that. … It was just genuine love and concern that they wanted James to be there and I could see it. I could really see it. When you can see it and not just hear it or be told about it, it was refreshing.”
Does he hope to replicate that this weekend?
“I just want it to be the same,” Cook said. “There’s nothing really I absolutely have to see.”
His answers will follow a pattern. They all go about two sentences. There’s a rhythm. Maybe 10 words. Maybe. That’s because he is naturally shy. Even around his loved ones.
“James doesn’t really like to talk,” Burnett said. “He doesn’t like to do interviews. He will do them, but he doesn’t really connect with them. You can tell when he doesn’t want to do them.”
She came up with a mimic of a turtle going into its shell to display her point.
“I’m like ‘Oh gosh’ when I see that,” Burnett said. “He doesn’t really like to talk. I want to get him out of that. James is just a really shy and a quiet person.”
But Cook knows what not to say in a recruiting discussion. When the discussion is steered away from his decision, he offers more. His facial features relax.
He’s noticed the number of elite recruits that are also considering Georgia. The Bulldogs will have anywhere from five to seven prospects that carry a 5-star recruiting ranking (247Sports Composite) in town this weekend.
There will be almost another 30 other 4-star prospects on hand, too.
“Georgia could be pretty good,” Cook said. “You see a lot of guys that seem to look like they want to start building something there.”
How does his Mother feel about Georgia?
Burnett said Georgia assistant Dell McGee is a key factor. That’s his primary recruiter and that relationship extends beyond this year. That’s interesting. Most felt Georgia didn’t really become a factor with Cook until January or February of this year.
The 5-foot-11.5, 181-pounder went past the 10-word mark to describe his potential position coach.
“He is a good coach,” Cook said. “He is also a pretty good off-the-field coach and just a pretty good coach overall there. Dell’s a good guy.”
That statement nutshells why his mother loves UGA. Burnett can say without an ounce of hubris that she knows James will produce happy fans, highlights and touchdowns over the next 3-4 years.
Burnett, a single mother, is more interested in what a school can give her son.
“I want him to see that one day all of this football is going to end,” she said. “I want him to start chipping away at the character and the person he is going to be off the field. This is what I am trying to get him to see. I want people to see the James that I see he can really be.”
Her son is being groomed by his older brothers. Dalvin is in the NFL, but one of his other brothers is a senior on the Ole Miss basketball team. He averaged 16.5 points per game last year after sitting out a year after a transfer from Miami.
“I need someone who is around him more like every day to actually groom him,” she said. “If he does choose Georgia, I will be very excited to see what Dell can do for him in that area. I want him thinking about always doing positive things and always making the right decision off the field. I’d like to see how a man like Dell can bring that out in him. I think Dell can bring that vocal side out. I think he could have him smiling more.”
When asked, Burnett couldn’t think of a single concern or worry she has about the program at this time.
She also said she wouldn’t mind if he didn’t take all five of those official visit. She loves the way that both Georgia and Louisville communicate with her and her son.
“I don’t want him to there but I think he is going to take all five,” she said. “I’m very persistent when it comes to him. I don’t think he needs to take five visits to determine where he wants to go. But I do get it. He knows this is a big decision and wants to make sure he sees what else is out there.”
She doesn’t see her son making a decision this weekend. If he really felt good about it, she wouldn’t mind him committing somewhere and getting it over with.
But she knows him well enough to believe that won’t happen this weekend.
Just how good is James Cook?
The guy can go. That is clear. Just take in this random sampling of opinion from some of the top players that were in action for Friday night’s IMG-Miami Central bout.
Both programs were rated in the nation’s Top 15 by a variety of polls heading into the game.
Alabama 4-star commit Trey Sanders of IMG Academy: “That boy is a hell of a player,” Sanders said of Cook. “He’s just like his brother. He handles things just like his brother.”
UGA 5-star commit Nolan Smith: “He is the real deal,” Smith said. “Did you hear what Trey Sanders said about James Cook? Trey Sanders is the real deal, too. Both of those guys were toting it that day.”
Smith added another point.
“Most people say James can be a hothead at times on the field but I never saw it today,” Smith said. “His composure was amazing. Here’s what I see: He was composed even when we were hitting him in the backfield. He got up and went back to work. We hit him the backfield on one play and then he broke it on the next one. It was crazy. He isn’t afraid to run inside. Some people call him a small guy but he won’t have a problem in college. That boy is fast. Nobody will catch him.”
Alabama 4-star commit Stephon Wynn Jr. of IMG Academy: “That’s the fastest player I have ever played against. That’s no lie. He has some different type of speed. He is unreal.”
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