Jason Cook has had quite the college football experience.
He was recruited by David Cutcliffe, who was fired less than a year after he signed Cook's class.
He has suffered a season-ending broken arm against Alabama during his redshirt freshman season. He has been a part of more losses and disappointments than he cares to remember, much less count.
In three seasons of play, Cook has a grand total of five rushes for 11 yards. He's caught 14 passes for another 137 yards. He's never gotten into the end zone as a collegian.
Still, as he works through his final spring at Ole Miss, Cook is smiling and happy, something he credits to the approach of new Rebel coach Houston Nutt.
"Coach Nutt is a great coach," Cook said. "It's definitely refreshing to play for a guy who truly, genuinely cares about his guys. That spills over to the rest of the team where we can tell, and for that reason, a lot of us work a little bit harder for Coach Nutt."
Cook, a 6-foot, 240-pounder from Suwanee, Ga., expressed no regrets regarding the adversity he's experienced at Ole Miss. Instead, he's readily stepped into a leadership role.
"In looking back over the four years I've spent here so far, it's been a fun experience," Cook said. "It's been a great learning experience. There's a reason why everything has happened, coaching change after coaching change, and now it does feel good that this is happening now. I'm actually kind of sad that I don't have a couple more years to stay here with these guys. But for it to be happening now, going into my senior year, is a really cool feeling."
After five practices, it's obvious Cook and backup fullback Andy Hartmann are going to have a much bigger role in Nutt's and Kent Austin's offense.
"Fullbacks, from offense to offense, are generically going to be about the same - primarily a blocking back, catch a few balls out of the backfield," Cook said. "The thing that's different in this system as opposed to the last one is the formations that we're being used in. There is a wide and diverse array of formations and we're catching a lot of balls out of the backfield, getting a chance to run and display our skills, which is something we didn't get a chance to do a whole lot last year."
Still, Cook's primary assignment is serving as a lead blocker for the Ole Miss tailbacks, a group that is led by rising junior Cordera Eason. The former Meridian star has been one of the best surprises of camp so far, breaking long runs and showing explosiveness at the line of scrimmage some didn't know he had. Cook, however, isn't surprised one bit.
"(It is) the same thing I've been seeing the last two years - a guy who can flat-out run the ball, a guy who works hard, a guy who loves to play the game," Cook said. "If you just look at him, he runs so hard because he loves playing the game and he's a talented back. Playing behind BenJarvus (Green-Ellis) and Bruce (Hall) is tough, but look for him to do some pretty big things this year. He's a very talented back.
"Cordera hits the hole a lot harder than Ben. Ben would take a handoff and read, I guess, before he would react. It's almost like ask first and apologize later. With Cordera, it's more just do it. It's easier to ask forgiveness later than permission first. As soon as he gets it, he hits it and he's gone. It's a little different running style, but he's a really good back."
Cook appraised Eason's development with a smile. The 2 ½-3-hour practices simply can't wipe the grin off his face. Football, maybe for the first time in his long and winding career in Oxford, is fun these days. That's reason to smile from ear to ear.
"Practice is work and practice is tough, but practice also at times now is fun," Cook said. "You go through and there are times when guys have smiles on their faces. I've never smiled so much at practice in four years here at Ole Miss, because it's not all about just pounding you and pounding you and pounding you and seeing how tough you can be. Because football is a tough game but football is also supposed to be fun and he's brought that aspect back to us this year which is really cool."
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