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Cooke brings whole package to Newberry

Posted: February 6, 2014 2:41 p.m.
Updated: February 7, 2014 5:00 a.m.

CAMDEN’S ALEXX COOKE SIGNED with Newberry while flanked by his parents, A.J. and Renne Cooke. Standing, from left, are Camden High head football coach and athletic director Jimmy Neal and CHS principal Dan Matthews.

When you are a guest in a stranger’s house, nothing makes you feel more welcomed than the host taking a moment to stop by and introduce himself to you.
Imagine that scene multiplied by 90 or so.
As he made his official visit to the Newberry College campus two weekends ago, Camden High School senior Alexx Cooke was a guest of the school’s football program. In this case, however, the former Bulldog wide receiver was hardly a wallflower at the party. Instead, he felt like the guest of honor during his stay.
“Every player came up to me, shook my hand and told me where they came from,” Cooke said of his experience on the Newberry campus. “Everybody’s from South Carolina so, it was the right fit for me.
“It’s small, like where I’m coming from, right now. Everybody was nice there.”
In a few months, Cooke will be on the other side of those handshakes in delivering one of his own to a prospective Wolf as the 5-foot-9, 160-pounder signed a National Letter of Intent with the South Atlantic Conference member in a Wednesday afternoon ceremony held inside the CHS library.
During a season in which he wanted to show recruiters that he was a college prospect, Cooke led the Bulldogs with 48 pass receptions which were good for a team-best 532 yards. Three of those grabs went for touchdowns.
Cooke was also used on jet sweeps and, if needed, could take over under center. He rushed for 112 yards on 14 carries with one going for a 57-yard touchdown. He also returned eight kicks for 113 yards with a long of 22 yards while bringing back one punt for 13 yards.
Those figures came after a junior campaign in which Cooke was on the receiving end of 15 passes on which he gained 146 yards. He also had a pair of grabs which went for touchdowns in 2012.
But Cooke wanted more in his final season with the gold and black. He admitted that he wanted to go out with a bang as a Bulldog and earn a scholarship after. So, he went out and gave it his best.
“I had goals for every game; to put up big numbers so that I could get a look and maybe, go somewhere,” he said of having helped Camden to a 5-5 season in 2013.
While his senior numbers on the field were all well and good, the ones which really drew the attention of schools to Cooke were those he received on his report card. As a member of CHS Beta Club, National Honor Society and Fellowship of Christian Athletes, Cooke was a quick sell for Camden head coach Jimmy Neal when listing his entire group of senior players to visiting college coaches.
“Alexx is just an outstanding guy,” Neal said. “He’s very smart and very intelligent. He’s an outstanding student and that drew a lot of attention to him.
“He’s not the biggest guy in the world, but he can run. You add that to his being a great student and it helped make things work out for him.”
The coach who was the most interested in Cooke was Newberry defensive coordinator Stephen Flynn. The former Kershaw County resident and assistant coach at Lugoff-Elgin as well as a one-time head coach of the Kershaw County Post 17 American Legion team, has Kershaw County as his recruiting area. Cooke said Flynn’s relentless work on the recruiting trail helped in his decision to attend Newberry.
“Coach Flynn and all of the Newberry Wolves ...,” Cooke said of the main reasons for his college choice. “It has a great family feel. I just felt it was the right place for me.”
Cooke said he expects to remain as a slot receiver for Todd Knight’s Wolves, a role he filled for Camden in his two full seasons as a starter. What Cooke brings to the position, Neal said, is everything an offensive coordinator looks for in a receiver; he know his routes, can catch the ball, has shiftiness and has a burst of speed which can turn a simple play into a long gain.
“He’s a really good player who has outstanding hands,” Neal said. “He’s a playmaker who has great feet. He’s like a cat out there.”
Another thing which Neal said he and his assistant coaches would notice when watching game films on Sunday afternoons following Friday night games was that Cooke rarely was on the receiving end of a big hit. Neal attributed that to Cooke’s elusive style and quick reflexes.
“He’s hard to hit and if you hit him, he just flies around,” Neal said as to Cooke’s durability. “Nobody really got a good shot on him; they just got him down to the ground.”
His elusiveness can also lead the Newberry staff into looking at Cooke as a special teams player to return punts and kickoffs, which he did in high school. Cooke said he is hopeful of getting the chance to show his skills in the return game as well and trying to make his mark as a receiver.
“I feel they’re going to use him any way they can,” Neal said. “Alexx can catch punts and he has the ability to return kickoffs.”
 A multi-sport athlete, Cooke is the starting point guard for Camden’s basketball team which is vying for a spot in the AAA state playoffs. He also has ran track for the Bulldogs, in addition to playing football. Neal said Cooke’s being able to focus solely on football will help in his development at Newberry.
“He’ll be able to concentrate on one thing at Newberry,” Neal said. “I think that’s going to help him a lot. He’ll get faster and stronger up there.”
Cooke said the biggest adjustments he will have to make in college is to the speed and athletic ability of the players. To that end, he said he needs to continue working on his speed, footwork, agility, getting stronger and blocking on the edge. Those are all things which Cooke can now concentrate on after his college signing, which he put in the top five events of his young life.
On this sunny Wednesday afternoon, Alexx Cooke was still grinning after having cemented his college plans and nailing what had been a goal of his for several years. On this day, he said, he was looking forward to beginning and reaching a new stage in his life.
“It was always a dream of mine to play college sports whether it was football, basketball or, something else,” he said as he relected on what this day meant to him. “As my senior year came along, I said to myself, ‘I can really make this happen.’ It felt great.
“I’m feeling great. I’m real excited.”


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