The last time running backs Joe Yearby and Dalvin Cook stood on the same sideline in a game that meant everything — sharing a brotherly bond, motivating each other, one reminding the other he was loved — was December 14, 2013.
Yearby was on crutches with a broken leg while teammate Cook scored four touchdowns and ran for 223 yards in leading Miami Central High School to its third state title in four years.
“Everytime I scored I went straight to Joe and told him, ‘I love you,’ ’’ Cook said that day. “That’s my brother. That’s something you can never take away. We’re brothers for life.”
At 8 p.m. Saturday, when Miami (3-1, 0-0 Atlantic Coast Conference) and 12th-ranked Florida State (4-0, 2-0) meet in a nationally televised game from Tallahassee, Yearby and Cook will be on one field again, this time on separate sidelines and this time with Cook’s health status in question.
“Of course I would like him to be full force,” said Yearby of Cook, an FSU Seminole who injured his left hamstring early last Saturday at Wake Forest and never returned — now a game-time decision by coach Jimbo Fisher. “I don’t want [anybody] to have any injuries. I want everybody 110 percent.”
Cook and Yearby.
Yearby or Cook.
Together or apart they shine.
The 5-9, 202-pound Yearby, a Hurricanes sophomore, ranks 30th nationally with 106 yards per game and ninth with his 7.31-yards-per-carry average. He has run the ball 58 times for 424 yards and four touchdowns.
The 5-11, 202-pound Cook, also a sophomore, ranks eighth nationally with 142.5 yards per game and fifth with his 8.64-yards-per carry average. He has carried 66 times for 570 yards and six touchdowns.
How good was the Miami Central backfield when both players were being recruited by Florida State and Miami?
“That one right there ranks as high as any,’’ Fisher said this week. “I’ve seen some really good backfields, but those two right there are pretty daggum good.’’
At Central, Yearby finished his career with 5,593 yards and 68 touchdowns, second-most behind Bobby Washington in Miami-Dade history. Cook, who didn’t play his freshman year, had 721 carries for 4,267 yards and 64 touchdowns. No Miami-Dade backfield has ever done better.
Coaching them their senior year: former Hurricanes cornerback Roland Smith, who won UM national titles in 1987 and ’89.
Smith went to the FSU-Miami game last year at Sun Life stadium and watched then-freshman Cook score the winning touchdown on a 26-yard run with 3:05 remaining.
“Dalvin always gave us that home-run threat ability,” Smith said by phone. “We gave him touches not only in the backfield as a running back, not only in the slot with swing passes and reverses, but on special teams in kickoff and punt returns. He could run inside, but once he got to the secondary, it was a stiff arm and house call.
“Joe could house it, too. Dalvin might be a little faster in the breakaway, but both have great vision. Joe does a great job of sticking his foot in the ground, making a cut and taking off.”
Smith, who saw Yearby last Saturday at the Central game, wants both of his former players to do well this week — as long as the Canes win.
“They had just lost to Cincinnati when I saw Joe,’’ Smith said. “I told him, ‘Keep your head up, keep grinding and get ready for FSU.’ Last year Duke Johnson was the man. Now it’s Joe’s turn.
“It’s going to be a thrill to watch those boys do their thing.”
Johnson, the Canes’ all-time leading rusher, ran for 132 yards and a touchdown on 27 carries in the 2014 UM-FSU game, with Yearby adding 34 yards on 10 carries.
Cook led all FSU rushers that day with 92 yards and two touchdowns, including the game-winner, on only seven carries.
Cook ran for 1,008 yards and eight touchdowns last season. Yearby, 509 yards and a touchdown as the backup.
If Cook can’t play or is limited by his hamstring, his backups are sophomore Johnathan Vickers (33 rushing yards and a touchdown on 10 carries) and freshman Jacques Patrick (three carries for 13 yards), because usual backup Mario Pender is out after undergoing surgery for a collapsed lung.
UM coach Al Golden indicated the Canes are preparing for all but Pender.
Yearby, who was once committed to FSU but switched when former Seminoles offensive coordinator James Coley came to UM for the same position, is the father of a nearly 10-month-old daughter, and son — Joe Jr. — who celebrated his fourth birthday Tuesday.
“They’ve showed me life is a lot serious,” he said in fall camp, “because I’ve got a family to feed.”
Yearby spent a month training daily on his own this summer, dealing with personal issues and visiting his children. After returning in late July bigger and stronger, he passed every conditioning test.
Though painfully quiet, Yearby has become a leader on and off the field.
“I love Joe Yearby,” Golden said this week. “He doesn’t say much. He’s a hard worker. He’s grateful, loves [UM]. He’s had a lot of adversity, went through a lot and attacked it head-on. He didn’t make excuses.”
Cook, also extremely quiet, has endured plenty of his own heartache. He was suspended indefinitely July 10 after being arrested and charged with punching a 21-year-old woman in the face outside a Tallahassee bar on June 23. He was acquitted in a jury trial Aug. 24.
“I’m just thankful and blessed the truth came out,’’ Cook told reporters after the not-guilty verdict. “It’s time to go to work. Back to the field.”
On Saturday, Cook and Yearby will not have each other for comfort, no matter who plays and who wins.
“I’m not really looking at it as a competition or anything,” Yearby said of Cook. “I’m just trying to get a win for the team. We’ll be better than we were last week.”
Is Cook not a friend this week?
Yearby took a few seconds to answer.
“No, he’s cool people,” he said. “We’ll always be cool.”