High School Sports

Manny Navarro: Miami Central’s James Cook emerges with a breakout game


James Cook was about 2 or 3 years old when he used to run into the middle of his older brother Dalvin’s football practices at Scott Lake Park and force coaches to stop play.

His father, James Cook Sr., can remember it like it was yesterday.

“Coaches would start screaming, ‘Get out J!’  ” Cook Sr. recalled Saturday afternoon at the Citrus Bowl. “Dalvin would be like, ‘Come on Coach let him stay.’ And J would go right back to running around, watching his brother.”

Two years ago, Dalvin Cook capped his epic high school career here by rushing for 223 yards and four touchdowns in a 52-7 blowout of Seffner Armwood. On

On Saturday, little James, a 16-year-old freshman, pretty much began his by doing the same thing.

Wearing a pair of Nike gold-plated cleats (Dalvin wore gold high top Nike cleats in his finale), James ran 15 times for 178 yards and three touchdowns, guiding the Central Rockets to their fourth consecutive state championship and fifth in six years with a 48-13 blowout of Armwood.

Sooner or later, somebody at Central is going to have to send Dalvin and James’ grandmother a fruit basket. Just when you think the Rockets could be out of Rocket fuel, she has played a hand in helping restock the shelves with more talent.

Last season, when Dalvin was a freshman at Florida State and James was an eighth-grader, Betty Cook’s youngest son, Anthony Jones, now a freshman at FIU, ran for 199 yards and three touchdowns in a 24-10 win over Armwood.

“I’ve got to thank Miss Betty, his grandmother, and his mother — and his father and stepfather, too,” coach Roland Smith said with a chuckle. “They’ve had a good support system at home.”

James Cook Sr., who has an 11-year-old son, Demarcus, runs the Fox Hole Car Wash in Opa Locka. He never played football. But he’s happy his sons did.

Dalvin wasn’t at Saturday’s state championship game, but he was watching on TV. Some thought he should have been in New York City for Saturday night’s Heisman Trophy ceremony.

After winning the Mr. Florida Football Award as a senior at Central, his career has flourished at Florida State. He broke Warrick Dunn’s single-season school rushing record with 1,242 yards. The Seminoles probably wouldn’t have gone 10-2 without him. But his Dad says Dalvin wasn’t disappointed. He’s got at least one year of college left and can win the Heisman next year.

James, meanwhile, wants to break all of his brother’s records at Central. At 5-11, 185 pounds, he’s already bigger and stronger than Dalvin was at 16. Dalvin’s infamous gold cleats wouldn’t have fit him Saturday. Dalvin is a size 10. James is a size 12.

James was happy Nike stopped by Central on Tuesday and dropped of its newest pair of cleats, the Vapor Untouchable II’s, for him and his teammates to wear in Saturday’s state title game. They’re white but gold-plated at the bottom.

“It just gave me the power I guess,” James said of the cleats.

Before Saturday, James was essentially Central’s third-string and fourth-quarter running back. Coaches would stash him away behind juniors Kywan Smith and senior Kenio Mike and sprinkle him in throughout the game. But when Mike injured his shoulder on his first carry Saturday, Cook came in and got to work early.

“Last night I told the guys in our pregame speech, ‘You young guys, if you want to get noticed, if you want to get offers early, you need to shine in the state championship game, make your imprint now so when you come in next year everybody will know who you are,” Smith said.

There’s no need to worry. Everyone knows who James Cook is now. He’s Dalvin’s talented younger brother and probably the next big thing in South Florida. Naturally, James was swarmed by recruiting writers from Rivals, 247Sports, Scout and probably dozens of others after Saturday’s game.

Smith said James is “still a baby.” But it’s clear you can see the similarities. He spends his offseasons training with Dalvin.

Will he follow him to FSU? He’s not sure right now. Like Dalvin, he grew up a University of Miami fan.

“I don’t know man,” James responded when asked Saturday if he would shun The U for FSU. “I’m just a freshman. I ain’t thinking about that right now.”

Good news Canes fans: Miami has already made him an offer. Now, the Canes just have to spend the next three years fighting LSU and FSU and whoever else offers him a scholarship to keep him home.

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