ATHENS — Georgia sophomore tailback James Cook was one of the few bright spots in the SEC Championship Game for the Bulldogs, and he’s just getting warmed up.
“I’ve learned to always be prepared when your number is called,” said Cook, a 5-foot-11, 198-pound tailback from Miami. “And I learned to fight through things.”
Cook has proven he can fight through tackles and run away from defenders this season. Against LSU last Saturday, he had 23 yards on 5 carries along with a catch for 11 yards.
It wasn’t the sort of season some had expected for Cook, who impressed his head coach and teammates in spring drills and throughout season practices.
Kirby Smart said several times the Bulldogs had to find a way to get the dynamic Cook the football in the open field.
Cook finished fourth on the team in rushing with 176 yards on 28 carries, his 6.3 yards per carry second only to freshman Kenny McIntosh (19 carries for 148 yards).
Cook also had 16 catches for 132 yards, tied with Brian Herrien for second-most among the backs, behind D’Andre Swift (24-216).
Learning to play receiver as well as running back added more to Cook’s plate this season, and he also started the season as a kick returner.
“It’s something you have to embrace and learn from,” Cook said of spreading out and learning new roles. “Things are going to get better.”
Cook has made it clear he has no intention of leaving Georgia. He’s well-aware with Swift and Herrien moving on there will be plenty of carries and snaps to split up.
Minnesota Vikings’ star running back Dalvin Cook, James’ older brother, has provided wise counsel.
“I just learn from him and ask for advice, I look up to him,” James Cook said. “I just talked to him, and he said ‘Keep pushing, save your body, and keep working hard, and next year it will come.’ ”
Opportunity will likely come even sooner than that. Swift is nursing an injured shoulder and is not expected to play in the Sugar Bowl.
Cook said he’s eager to get back to work, and he senses the team is too with the Jan. 1 meeting with Baylor on deck in New Orleans.
“We’re going to approach it like champions,” Cook said. “We’re going to go back to practice and get ready for the single bowl game we have to play.