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June 28, 2006For Emanuel Cook, payback begins Nov. 11.
That's the date South Carolina visits The Swamp to face the Florida Gators in one of the most highly anticipated matchups of the college football season.
While most of the media attention will focus squarely on Steve Spurrier's return to Gainesville as he coaches against Florida for the first time in a place he helped make notorious, the contest will carry significant meaning for Cook as well.
Virtually ignored by the Big Three schools in the Sunshine State despite rushing for 2,027 yards and 29 touchdowns to lead Palm Beach Gardens High School to the Class 6A state championship, Cook intends to show the Florida coaches and fans what they could have had.
"I'm going to show them what they're missing on November 11th," Cook said. "There will be a whole bunch of people at that game when we go down to Gainesville. My (high school) principal went to Florida. Some people will be rooting for me, some will be rooting against me. I'll have (former) coaches and teachers there."
Right now, Cook is happy to be a Gamecock. He was scheduled to arrive in Columbia Tuesday for orientation and remain in the Capital City for the start of classes and the highly intensive summer conditioning program next week.
"I've been working out four days a week, running and lifting," Cook said. "I got a workout plan from (strength and conditioning coach Mark Smith) a few weeks ago. I've been following it."
Cook excelled on both sides of the ball in high school. While his running back exploits captured most of the media attention, and were largely responsible for him being named Florida's Class 6A Player of the Year, Cook was an outstanding linebacker as well.
"I did pretty well at linebacker, that's how I first got noticed," Cook said. "No one really noticed me as running back until the second half of my junior year."
Spurrier certainly noticed, praising Cook for his hard-hitting, aggressive style on nearly every stop of the Gamecock Club tour this spring.
Cook - ranked by Rivals.com as the No. 21 safety in the nation and the No. 51 player in the State of Florida - says he won't waste any time fighting for a spot when fall camp begins in early August.
"I'm looking to compete for a starting job," Cook said. "Redshirting is not even on my mind. I'm ready to compete and help the team get better."
Cook will likely begin his career with the Gamecocks on the defensive side of the ball as a strong safety or outside linebacker. But the 5-foot-11 Cook expects to get a look at running back as well.
Right now, Cook has no preference where he plays.
"I'm willing to come in and help out anywhere," Cook said. "I was talking to Coach Spurrier when I came for the spring game and he said to get on the field early it's best I get on defense as a strong safety or outside linebacker. I want to play wherever I can get some early playing time."
Although Cook will likely play on defense as a freshman, it's possible he could move over to running back in subsequent seasons.
In 2007, USC will have Mike Davis, Cory Boyd, Bobby Wallace and Brian Maddox at that position, so the competition will be fierce.
Cook is one of two players USC recruited from Palm Beach County. Defensive tackle Kenrick Ellis from John I. Leonard High School in Greenacres, Fla., will also be seeking a starting job in the interior of the Gamecocks' defensive line.
"I talk with (Ellis) all the time. He's definitely excited," Cook said. "He's coming up with me."
Cook was honored as the Palm Beach County Player of the Year, a distinction which earned him the prestigious Lou Groza Award.
His high school ran a simplified version of the Wing-T offense. Yet, despite knowing Palm Beach Gardens would run the ball on nearly every play, opponents still couldn't stop Cook, who capped his season with a spectacular performance in the Class 6A championship game.
He rushed for 243 yards and four touchdowns as Palm Beach Gardens literally ran past Deerfield Beach, 49-29, at Dolphins Stadium for the first state championship in school history.
While it was good enough to get a sniff from Florida, Florida State and Miami, none of those schools offered. Once Spurrier became actively involved in recruiting Cook, his interest in the Gamecocks peaked.
His announcement that he would attend USC caught some people in Palm Beach County by surprise.
"A lot of people asked me why I didn't go to Miami or N.C. State," Cook said. "I told them that Miami never offered. They weren't really interested in me until the end of my senior year. So I wasn't really looking that way. I just wanted to come to South Carolina where I feel this could be my town. I want to take over and dominate. I felt I could make a big impact here."
What little interest Florida and Florida State had in Cook, it was strictly as a linebacker.
"They told my coach they didn't need any linebackers," Cook said. "But they signed like three different linebackers."
Cook - who seriously considered Rutgers, North Carolina State and Ole Miss as well - managed to keep his college choice secret until signing day when he pulled on a USC jersey shortly before signing his letter of intent during a press conference at his school.
Spurrier convinced Cook to give USC, which went to its first bowl game in four seasons in 2005, a serious look. He liked what he saw.
"I was impressed with Coach Spurrier from the beginning," Cook said. "I saw what he did with the program. I enjoyed my visit. My parents sold me on it, I was sold on it, so I was ready to go."
Cook plans to major in sports and entertainment management.
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