Dalvin Cook doesn’t plan on breaking out the Nike golden high-top cleats — the same ones he wore to glory for Miami Central a year ago — in Thursday’s Rose Bowl.
He handed them down to his younger brother.
But the freshman running back for Florida State doesn’t need fancy shoes to score style points on the field. Simply put a football in his hands, and he turns into a flashing neon billboard for excellence.
“I just love handing him the ball,” said FSU quarterback Jameis Winston, who has become an instant admirer. “I cannot wait to see what he’s going to do over the years.”
Make no mistake. As the Seminoles prepare to put their 29-game winning streak on the line when they face Oregon in the College Football Playoff semifinal, Winston remains the face of a team he led to a national title a year ago.
Come next season, though, when Winston will likely be suiting up on Sundays in the NFL, Cook figures to be the main man on the Seminoles, a classic running back with speed, slick moves and power.
And that’s just fine with Cook, who has emerged into every bit the threat with his legs as Winston is with his arm when the Seminoles have the football.
“I won’t say it’s my team, because it’s a team effort,” is how Cook envisions himself in a post-Winston era at FSU. “But I’m probably going to have to take on a bigger role next year if Jameis leaves.”
Cook is showing why he was rated the nation’s No.3 running back out of Miami Central, and why he was in hot demand by college recruiters. He ended up choosing FSU over Florida and Miami.
He’s racked up more than 900 yards rushing to lead the Seminoles.
Most of those have come in the second half of the season, after coach Jimbo Fisher put his trust in the freshman. Early on, though, Cook was all but an afterthought in Florida State’s offensive scheme.
He didn’t play at all in the season opener against Oklahoma State, and had only 24 total carries through the Noles’ first five games.
But in an October game against Syracuse, nearly halfway into the season, Cook began to show everyone in Tallahassee what he had been doing in Miami for so long as a much-heralded prep star. He totaled 122 rushing yards on 23 carries.
Against Louisville a few weeks later, when Winston struggled by throwing three first-half interceptions and the Seminoles fell behind 21-0, Cook was a major part of a Florida State comeback in a 42-31 victory. He ran for 110 yards and a pair of touchdowns on only nine carries. He also caught four passes, revealing a new weapon in his skill set.
Cook racked up 144 yards in a win against Florida, the school he snubbed when he chose Florida State. And when the Seminoles defeated Georgia Tech for the Atlantic Coast Conference championship, he was named the game’s MVP after carrying 31 times for 177 yards.
“I don’t call it a ‘late-season emergence,’” Winston responded when asked about Cook’s second-half blooming. “We were just start getting the ball to him more at the end of the season because of injuries.”
Said Cook: “It was just my time to take over. Coach Fisher gave me the shot. I just took the role and I embraced it. I just took it and ran with it. I knew I had it in me. I felt like I’m going back to the old me, the high school days.”
Oregon has taken notice.
While much of the spotlight is aimed on Winston and his matchup against Ducks quarterback Marcus Mariota in a showdown of Heisman Trophy winners, it is Cook who also is causing Oregon concern.
“You watch the film and you start looking at the run game and the pass game, and then the run game — I just know all of a sudden the running back, all of a sudden they started being more productive,” said Oregon defensive coordinator Don Pellum. “Their running back is really fast.”
Cook had been sharing the rushing duties with Karlos Williams, who sat out the Georgia Tech game with concussion symptoms. Williams is expected to play on Thursday.
But given Cook’s recent success, the freshman figures to receive most of the playing time.
“Last year around this time, I was in high school,” Cook said. “This is something you always dreamed of. I ain’t hit the wall yet. I just put my my head down and just kept going.”