By Bob Hertzel
Times West Virginian
It was one of the saddest sights of a season filled with them.
Kansas running back James Sims had just broken into the West Virginia secondary and safety Darwin Cook, the surest and most prolific of Mountaineer tacklers, had a shot at getting to him but couldn’t do it.
It was the kind of effort that you did not associate with Cook, quickly lending credence to a tweet from Mike Casazza of the Charleston Daily Mail from the game a short while earlier that read:
“And I’m not sure Darwin Cook is healthy.”
At another point the same Mr. Casazza noted that he hadn’t felt Cook had been on top of his game physically for two weeks.
Sure enough, as Cook took off in pursuit of Sims, he did so in obvious pain, limping visibly.
This, of course, was the game-breaking 68-yard touchdown run by Sims and in the glum aftermath of the game, defensive coordinator Keith Patterson was quoted as saying:
“We had Cookie on the field and obviously he couldn’t play. That’s probably my fault. You know Cookie — he’s not going to tell you the full story. He wants to be on the field.”
He would be there no longer in this game, for his was a damaged groin, one that coach Dana Holgorsen said on Monday would have kept him out of a game this week were it not a bye but which he expects to be healed in time for next week’s season-ending Senior Day matchup with Iowa State at 4 p.m. at Milan Puskar Stadium.
Certainly you would hope that Cook would get to end his career on a happier note than that, for he surely earned it.
Not always the apple of Holgorsen’s eye, Cook had to learn what it took to be a football player and had to earn his way to the point that he became one of the more memorable safeties to play at WVU, teaming with young Karl Joseph for two years to be one of the hardest hitting pairs of safeties ever to play in tandem at the school.
This season the two were punishing, Cook now leading the Mountaineers with 74 tackles and Joseph, while down from being the team’s leading tackler as a freshman a year ago, owning 59 tackles — an incredible 50 of them unassisted.
But all of this caught up with both of them, as it inevitably had to.
“He broke down,” Holgorsen said of Cook on Monday, “and Karl’s the same way because both those kids play hard now. They play with a lot of effort and leave it out on the field. Darwin’s groin got him.”
The groin got Cook and the Mountaineers, and he wasn’t the only one.
“We’re a little bit up and he goes out in the first quarter. Then (Daryl) Worley’s shin goes out and you lose him for two quarters.”
This is why Holgorsen has been crying out for more depth.
“We’re not where we want to be. You need snaps. You need depth. When guys play 92 snaps a game at the level Karl plays, it’s going to catch up to you; it’s going to catch up to Darwin,” he said.
“You put Jarrod Harper in there and it’s a different level
because of Jarrod’s age, but Jarrod went in there and got good snaps and played well. He’s going to be a good player for us,” Holgorsen said.
The key is the words “going to,” for Cook already is.
In fact, when they get together in 20 years to talk about the good old days, they will talk a lot about Darwin Cook and what he meant to WVU back there when it dismantled Clemson, 70-33, in the Orange Bowl at the end of Holgorsen’s first season.
You might recall when Clemson was about to score just before the half to take a solid lead in the game, only to fumble the ball just before crossing in for a TD, Cook sneaked in the back end, yanked the ball out of the pile and went off 99 or so yards in the opposite direction for the score that turned the game around.
As memorable as that play was, what made it even more memorable was the way it ended, Cook going across the goal line and nearly decapitating Obie, the Orange Bowl mascot, a rather interesting thing to do in all honesty as Obie is really nothing but a big orange head.
Cook, being ever the gentleman, approached the fallen mascot following the game, only to learned that this was an orange of the feminine gender.
“I didn’t know you were a girl. I apologize,” he said.
Despite what transpired at Kansas, Cook owes us no apologies like that. We just hope he can put it all together one more time to have a sentimental goodbye on Senior Day.
Follow Bob Hertzel on Twitter @bhertzel.