October 2, 2008

Brotherly love to be on display in Oxford

Jason Cook has known Saturday's game was coming _ and specifically, who was coming with it _ for quite some time.

That doesn't make it any easier to swallow the fact that it didn't have to be _ and probably shouldn't haven _ this way.

Ole Miss' senior fullback will oppose his younger brother, Jared Cook Saturday when the Rebels (3-2 overall, 1-1 in the Southeastern Conference) entertain South Carolina (3-2, 0-2) at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium.

When Cook first arrived at Ole Miss, he always assumed his little brother would follow him to Oxford. Jared Cook wanted it to be that way as well. David Cutcliffe and his staff had other ideas.

"Coach Cut and that staff said he wasn't fast enough," Jason Cook said. "He ran a 4.6 (40-yard dash). He was about 6-4 going into his senior year, but the wide receivers coach said he wasn't fast enough. When those guys left, Coach O (Ed Orgeron) and Coach (Noel) Mazzone came in and said, 'Holy cow, who is your brother?' I said, 'He's 6-5, a good athlete, great hands.' (Mazzone) said, 'Yeah, I know. I'm going to see him this weekend.'

"By that time, though, it was too late. He already had a bad taste in his mouth from the whole Ole Miss program and them not wanting him and then all of a sudden wanting him. He had offers from Ohio State and Mississippi State and South Carolina. He took his trip to South Carolina, loved it and set his mind on going there, so that's where he's at. I didn't play much of a role in telling him where to go because he's a man and he's going to decide where he wants to go. I was disappointed that the coaches didn't recruit him and I was disappointed in the way that the whole situation was handled, but I respect him, the coaches and I totally trusted him. I'm glad he is where he is. He's having a great time and a phenomenal season so far, but it would have been nice to have No. 84 suiting up for the Ole Miss Rebels."

Through five games, Jared Cook is South Carolina's leading receiver with 19 catches for 262 yards and a touchdown. Jared Cook would make the Rebels' offense "exponentially better, I'll say that," Jason Cook said. " (David) Traxler and Gerald (Harris) are good tight ends. They haven't had a chance to showcase their pass-catching ability a whole lot, but having a guy on the line who can stretch the field adds another dimension to your offense that's incredibly hard to defend and incredibly hard to stop."

Instead of cheering for his brother this weekend, Jason Cook has to hope his defensive teammates can contain him enough for the Rebels to pick up their second straight SEC win for the first time since 2003. Brotherly bragging rights are at stake, sure, but Jason Cook has his eye on a bigger prize.

"We've talked about it a little bit, but we really haven't discussed the game too much," Jason Cook said. "We'll have some bragging rights for the rest of our lives as far as the outcome of this game goes but we haven't talked too much about the game at all. We talk about a lot of other stuff that's more meaningful than the game. Please believe after the game there will be a lot of talking going on."

"In AAU basketball, we played on two separate teams, so we played all the time. Most of the time, the team that I was on won. Since then, though, this will be the first time playing against each other and it's going to be weird suiting up and looking across the sideline and seeing my baby brother over there. I treat it as another game. My brother's an opponent this week. When that whistle blows and we step across those lines, bottom line, he's on the opposite team and we're two gladiators fighting in an arena. When that whistle blows and the game is over, he's still my baby brother. I'm going to give him a huge hug and tell him I love him because I do."

The brothers' parents, Carl Cook and Yulinda Cook, will be making the trip to Oxford for Suwanee, Ga., knowing full well one son is going to win and another is going to lose.

"My parents are stoked," Jason Cook said, adding that he's been trying to fill 20 ticket requests from family and friends this week. "They've got t-shirts made, hats, pins. They're coming decked out. A bunch of people are coming to the game, so they're going to have a good time."

It took time, and there was some bitterness, but Jason Cook said he's over the fact that his school misevaluated his brother and killed a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for the siblings to play college football together. Instead, he's enjoyed watching Jared's career and taken great pride in seeing the Gamecocks' tight end flourish.

"I'm over it," Jason Cook said. "It's a neat idea. In a storybook, fairy-tale ending, he'd be here and going through this with us. But he's not. One thing that my family always says is we trust in the fact that God is sovereign and there's a reason that he's there and there's a reason that I'm here. I can rest comfortably in that fact.

"I'm so proud of him. I'm proud of him as a football player and I'm proud of him as a man. He's done a lot of really good things over there for that ball club, but I'm proud to see that he's a good citizen, that he's conducting himself with class and that he's playing great ball. There's a great sense of pride in me knowing that's my little brother."

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