Leader of the pack

Atascadero grad Elijah Cooks ready to build on breakout season with Nevada

NEVADA — If the name Elijah Cooks rings a bell in your memory it is because he used to grace the front of this newspaper’s sports section and several others in the county back in 2016 when he tore up the PAC-5 and everyone else the Atascadero High School Greyhounds played in football, accumulating over 1,000 all-purpose yards and double-digit touchdowns.

Cooks then gave the Central Coast one last fantastic performance to remember him by recording seven catches for 106 yards and a touchdown as the lone bright spot on the North County team in the 2017 FCA all-star game before he packed his bags and headed for Nevada. Cooks only transitioned to wide receiver in his senior year, after playing quarterback for the majority of his football career, but now after a year in high school and two in Division 1 it seems he has begun to master the position as he led the Wolfpack in touchdowns as a sophomore last season coming on late and scoring touchdowns in five of seven games down the stretch. 

As a Greyhound, Cooks was a two-sport star in both basketball and football and was arguably better with the round ball. Around the start of the senior season, upon receiving offers to play football, he decided to trade in the hardwood for the gridiron at the next level. Cooks’ background in basketball is paramount to his success. The 6-foot-4-inch, 215 pound outside receiver is at his best in the air always managing to come down with contested catches, usually in the endzone, as Nevada’s Twitter account has obviously figured out as his catches and jubilant personality consistently find their way onto the team’s various pages. 

Following his freshman season, where he only caught two balls for 23 yards, the football coaches hosted a basketball tournament for their players. Cooks showed that he still had the handles and the jumper and was met with the opportunity of a lifetime. 

“The [basketball] team had lost a couple of players at the end of the season and the weekend before that our coaches had a little football-basketball tournament for us just for some fun,” Cooks explained. “And when the head basketball coach came and asked him if he had anyone that could hoop and he told him that there was me and this one other guy, Justin Brent, and they just asked us to join the team and that's how it happened.”

What happened is Cooks joined the Nevada men’s basketball team for the NCAA tournament run that ended in the Sweet Sixteen. While the former Greyhound wasn’t receiving playing time the cameras cut to him consistently on the bench as he played hype-man for the entire team. 

“It was one of the coolest experiences of my life,” Cooks said. The tall and springy outside receiver has always played the position almost like a basketball player a la recent Pro Football Hall of Fame inductee Tony Gonzales. Cooks uses his body to shield defenders from the ball and is constantly able to high point his receptions sometimes looking as if he is plucking a rebound out of the crowded paint. 

As a freshman, Cooks began to earn playing time in the second game of the season and appeared in nine games but was not a real part of the offense. Cooks worked his way into a bigger role over the offseason and upgraded from playing in nine games to starting six and tying for the touchdown lead on the team with seven.

His season started off slowly, the former Greyhound struggled with a few drops and only had two catches through the first three games and that had left his confidence shaken just a little. Then came the Wolfpack’s fourth game against Toledo and Cooks began to show that he is the biggest touchdown threat on the field. 

Cooks scored his first touchdown of the season against the Rockets on his only catch of 22-yards. Over the next month of the season, he made a living in the endzone as 38% of his touches found paydirt. Cooks recorded two touchdowns on two receptions against Air Force, hauled in four catches for 57 yards and a touchdown against Fresno State and then showed off his full arsenal against Hawaii, reeling in three catches for 54-yards a touchdown and also recording one carry that went 40-yards to the house.

Following his breakout season, the true junior has committed himself to training and wants to now become a leader on the team.

“Coming into this summer I took more of a leadership role,” Cooks explained. “Because I played more, I had more confidence, and I just know coming into this season I can step my game up and do what I can to help us win.”

Nevada opened their camp last week and look to have a strong season after finishing third in the Mountain West a year ago at 8-5 overall. Cooks will have to develop a rapport with a new quarterback this year and who that will be is still being decided. The Wolfpack return nearly all their receivers but the touchdown leader is confident in his spot and while he worked all season to become a more complete receiver, “Moss a few kids and show out is the goal.”

Cooks hopes to follow in the footsteps of another recent North County star in Josh Oliver who was drafted by the Jacksonville Jaguars. The two are close and have worked out together and hope to one day face off in the NFL. Nevada will play at Fresno State and at San Diego State in back-to-back weeks in the beginning of November and is sure to have one section full of Orange cheering him on. 


© 2019-Paso Robles Press

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