By Bob Hertzel
For the Times West Virginian
The way West Virginia University senior safety Darwin Cook has it figured, he has evolved into the player he is.
And – considering the name — that’s a fitting theory.
Take this past week.
Cook had himself a monster game against Oklahoma … 11 tackles and his second interception, a rather spectacular leaping interception.
When asked where such an athletic move came from, the man named Darwin put it this way:
“I didn’t know my Daddy gave me so much DNA,” he said. “I didn’t know I could jump like that.”
In other words, it was strictly just more proof of evolution.
It is the same kind of evolution the defense has displayed since it played like a fish out of water a year ago, teams running around, over and through the Mountaineers to score more points and gain more yards than they’d ever given up before.
If the move of making Keith Patterson the defensive coordinator is behind the improvement, you can’t take away from the performance and leadership Cook is putting forth.
It has been a case of growing up and realizing exactly what he possesses.
As for the performance, he says that’s easy to understand, even coming on the heels of a season that was somewhat troubled and had him fighting to keep his job.
“I’m healthy. That’s what makes the difference. Any sport when you feel better you play better,” he said.
The leadership he is showing, the example he is setting, that is something that only evolution could bring on.
“I feel a sense of urgency because these are my last games here. I’ve only got 10 opportunities left. I’m just trying to take advantage of every opportunity I have,” he promised.
And, to date, he’s been doing just that, his exuberance in his play rubbing off on all those around him. Cook is a football player wearing a helmet and a smile, enjoying everything about his senior year.
Take the underdog role WVU played when it went to Oklahoma. He was the Mountaineer who made it clear that “my mamma” was the only person giving WVU a chance as it went in a 21-point underdog but could have won.
And when asked her reaction to WVU losing the game, he smiled and said:
“She was happy for me, individually. But I was beat down.”
It was a beat-down kind of game, physical with Oklahoma running a lot. And seeing teammate Doug Rigg take a blow to the head in a collision with teammate Karl Joseph and lay on the ground unconscious and not moving for a long period of time took a toll.
“I got so emotional, I started crying,” Cook said. “I shed a few tears and then he moved his arm and I started crying some more. Then they ran a third test on him and he didn’t feel a thing, and I just started bawling.
“When I found he was OK, that was satisfying. I felt like we won the game.”
It has been frustrating for this year’s defense, performing probably well enough to be unbeaten in two games but having had the offense score only one touchdown against Oklahoma, that on a 75-yard breakaway run by Dreamius Smith.
Cook, however, is not pointing any fingers.
“It’s just like last year,” he said. “The offense was probably thinking the same thing (about the defense). They had to get 75 points to get a tie. It takes time. I’ve been on both sides, and it works like that,” Cook said.
There can be no argument that the defense has made big strides.
“I told you (before the season),” Cook said. “I’m not saying we’re 2010, but we’re really good.”
The 2010 team started with a shutout of Coastal Carolina and never allowed more than 21 points in any game until North Carolina State scored 23 with Russell Wilson at quarterback in the Champs Sports Bowl.
That team closed out the regular season after giving up 21 points to Marshall in overtime in the season’s second game by allowing Maryland 17, LSU 20, UNLV 10, South Florida 6, Syracuse 19, Connecticut 16 (in overtime), Cincinnati, Louisville and Pitt 10 points followed by Rutgers with 14.
Email Bob Hertzel at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @bhertzel.