Senior nose tackle is strong in the trenches, but maybe even stronger in character
By Fedor Gaponenko, EWU Sports Information
“It’s a no glory position, but that’s the best part,” says senior Eastern Washington University defensive lineman Evan Cook.
When looking at game statistics, it can sometimes be tough to measure the individual performances of offensive and defensive linemen, but their work in the trenches often reflects the final outcome more than fancy statistics.
Playing the nose tackle position, Cook often faces double teams with the opposing center and guards throwing their weight at him to open up running lanes. If he slips up for even one play, it can result in a gashing run right up the middle of the defense.
Cook is finishing his fifth year at Eastern, and has started 25 of the 37 games he has played in his career. He enters this Saturday’s (Dec. 1) game in the NCAA Football Championship Playoffs with 24 tackles, 1 1/2 sacks, two passes broken up, a forced fumble and a quarterback hurry. He has started all 11 games this season, but his last two seasons have been marred by injuries.
After redshirting in 2008, he had a productive season in 2009. As part of the defensive line rotation his freshman year he recorded 30 tackles and 2 1/2 sacks. Of the 12 games he played that year, he started 10 of them as the strong-side defensive end.
In 2010, he earned the starting position after recording a pair of sacks, two forced fumbles and three total tackles in Eastern’s Red-White Spring Game. Unfortunately, Cook was injured midway through the season and missed EWU’s run to the NCAA Division I Championship, as well as a chunk of the 2011 season.
Missing the 2010 playoffs continues to motivate Cook to be the most productive he can be. He views this opportunity to be in the playoffs as his chance to make up for the earlier missed opportunity.
This Saturday, during the home playoff game against the Wagner College Seahawks, Cook and the defense hope to continue their high energy and aggressive play.
It’s a football cliché that the battle is won in the trenches. From your experience, how true do you think this is?
“It’s very true. I always see it as you don’t have a good team unless you have a good defensive line and offensive line. In college football last year you look at Alabama, or the Giants in the NFL, both of those teams show you that you need a great O and D line to get far.”
At nose tackle you don’t always have a ton of stats, so how do you grade your own performance during and after the game apart from tackles and sacks?
“Well, if I stay off my back then I’m doing pretty well. If our linebackers stay clean, they do a good job of giving us credit. It’s a no glory position, but that’s the best part.”
What is your favorite part about playing on the D-line?
“Going into battle every game with the three guys next to me is my favorite part. Also just the unit and the camaraderie we have to have to work together.”
Why do your teammates call you ‘Cookie’? Is it just because of your last name or do you share cookies?
“It’s just because of my last name. My coach started calling me that freshman year and it stuck. It has nothing to do with actual cookies though.”
What’s it been like sharing names with the son of Sports Information Director Dave Cook?
“It’s been great. We have an ongoing joke for years. Every time I see him I’m like, ‘hey, what’s up pops.’ If he texts me about an interview or something he writes, ‘hey son.’ It’s always been pretty funny.”
After missing games in 2010 and 2011 due to injury, how glad are you to be able to play a complete regular season and now enter the playoffs healthy?
“Oh man, I’m just like -- finally! Especially after the 2010 year -- I just wanted to be a part of it so bad. Who knew how that season was going to end with a national championship. My big thing now is I just have to stay healthy and productive -- that’s my main goal.”
I know you missed quite a few games the last couple of years, do you think you can appeal for a sixth year like Zach Johnson?
“I don’t want to, I’m old. I’ve been here five years and played a lot of football. My body is screaming at me.”
Every game is big, but they definitely get bigger in the playoffs. How pumped are you to start in your first playoff game in front of the home crowd?
“I was in a playoff game my freshman year (2009 versus Stephen F. Austin), but this is going to be great. I’m so excited I can’t wait.”
What have you and the defense been preparing for against Wagner?
“We have been focusing on us and getting back to the basics: tackling, pad level and motor. We feel that when we play to our ability and fly around, it is the most beautiful thing to watch. We can be a dominant force any weekend if we play up to our ability. If we don’t, then that’s when those close games happen like the last couple of games.”
Does missing the championship run in 2010 motivate you even more to get Eastern back to the final?
“I told myself when I was rehabbing that my biggest goal is to get back to the championship and be a factor in some sort of way, whether that’s making a big play and putting the team in a good situation.”
These next few weeks hopefully you and the team will be creating your best memories yet, but up until now what has been your favorite one?
“It’s always a great memory to beat Montana, especially the way we did this year. But most of my best memories are off the field being with the guys, and the locker room environment before and after games and during the week.”
Who would you say has been the biggest role model in your life?
“I would have to say my mother is my biggest role model. It’s not as much what people do that I look at; it’s how they act in certain situations. We weren’t brought up in the best situation, and part of the reason I am the way I am is because of her. I watched her go through all these situations, and she didn’t show a care in the world or let stress get to her. So I try to live my life like that.”
You mentioned, ‘the way I am.’ Can you expand on that? What’s your attitude towards life?
“Some people call me crazy, I just call me, me. I can be goofy at times or I can also be serious. The most important thing is I’m different. I want to be an individual.”
When your career here at Eastern is finished, what do you plan on doing next?
“I’m in a bind -- I don’t know. I kind of want to coach, but I also want to go and change the world -- that’s the big thing. So whether that’s law enforcement with my degree to help people become better, or coaching to be a mentor for young men. Whatever it is I just want to leave it in God’s hands and say, ‘use me -- I want to be your tool.’”
Apart from football and school, what is your biggest interest?
“I love poetry, helping people and I love the different situations that the world is in. I’m really big on bringing people together and changing the way society is. My biggest interest is to find a way to change the world and start a revolution to get people on board and break away from the corruption we see.”
What would you like to say to all the Eagle fans reading this?
“Come out to the game. I know it’s going to be cold, but stay all four quarters and support us all the way. We’re going to do our best to make you proud.”