SU safety steps up from special teams
Many Southern players come from all over the country. With alumni bases stretching from Chicago to Houston to Atlanta, you are sure to find a player from that region on the Jaguars football roster.
In fact, there are five players on the roster from Houston, eight from the Chicago area, and another 10 from Georgia.
However, there is one player whose hometown stands by itself.
Junior safety Omar Cook is the lone player on the roster from California.
Cook, a redshirt junior, came to Southern four years ago as a walk-on by means of University High School in Irvine, Calif.
“In my junior year in high school, they had a college expo that I attended where Southern and Grambling were there,” Cook said. “I applied to both schools. As soon as I got accepted to the schools, my high school coach sent out my highlight tape, and the defensive backs coach for Southern at the time liked my film a lot.”
“He asked me to come on a visit. My parents and I enjoyed our visit down here, and that’s how I ended up at Southern.”
He spent his first three seasons buried on the depth chart and primarily used as a special teams player.
Cook headed into this season without having a tackle in the past two seasons.
However, that all changed for Cook in the offseason. With the Jaguars needing to replace two starters at safety from the previous season, there was an opportunity knocking, and Cook took full advantage.
“During the offseason, I just worked my tail off to get a starting spot on the defense,” Cook said.
And the results have showed for Cook, who ranks fourth on the team in total tackles with 27.
“I always tell myself I want to be around the ball,” Cook said. “Wherever the ball is, I’m just working my tail off to go and get it.”
The Southern defensive depth chart has been a roller coaster of a ride to keep up with. Up to seven starters have been in-and-out of the lineup because of injuries, suspensions, and performance and academic issues.
“The first two games, we were really just trying to find our identity,” Cook said. “We went back to the drawing board after that and just got better prepared for SWAC play.”
In the defensive secondary, the one steady cog has been at strong safety, which Cook has manned since the opening snap of the season.
Cornerbacks Virgil Williams and Johnathan Mack have missed time because of injuries, and free safety Dionte McDuffy missed the first two games because of NCAA transfer compliance issues.
“As a safety, you have to be relied upon to communicate,” Cook said. “Especially on the field, it’s my responsibility that everybody knows what they’re supposed to be doing.”
With many regulars in and out of the lineup, Cook has been relied upon to be a playmaker in the Jaguars’ secondary. And no play has been bigger than the one he made against Mississippi Valley State two Saturdays ago.
With Southern holding a 10-0 lead early in the fourth quarter, the Delta Devils were piecing together a drive that could make a once-comfortable two-possession lead become a nail-biting finish.
Valley had driven the ball to nearly midfield when quarterback Patrick Ivey dropped back to pass, cocked his right arm and fired a pass deep down the middle of the field to a Delta Devil receiver, only to have Cook swoop in for the interception.
“They threw two deep balls earlier in the game, and I kind of wasted the opportunity to be able to intercept it,” Cook said. “My coaches kept telling me that they’re going to throw it again, and I was ready for them to throw it again. I was just able to capitalize on the opportunity.”
“Every day in practice, (defensive backs) coach (Marty) Biagi is always preaching ‘don’t get beat deep.’ When we’re on the field, we’re all pretty conscious of that.”
Although Cook has seized the opportunity that was set before him, he is not taking anything for granted, continuing to work on the areas that he feels need most improvement.
“My main focus the past few weeks has been to help stop the run,’’ he said. “I feel like I still need to come up a little faster and a little harder on the run.”
With the Jaguars on an open date, the organization “A Nation of Dominance” is sponsoring a fish fry between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. Friday at Gate 14 on the east side of A.W. Mumford Stadium.
The organization is charging $7 a plate, and all Jaguars fans are invited to attend.