WALKER – Long before he returned punts for touchdowns in each of his last two games, Walker High’s Jalen Cook pictured the exact scenario playing out before he ever stepped foot onto the field at Wildcat Stadium.
“You’ve got to envision it before the game,” he said. “You have to have to belief in it. We’re always talking before the game about who’s going to make the big plays whether that’s a punt or a kickoff return, interception or big hit. That’s how we play around.”
The way Cook’s been “playing around” the past two weeks probably hasn’t been very amusing to the opposition.
Cook, who had already established his game-breaking qualities at wide receiver, has helped elevate the play of Walker’s special teams, who have been responsible for touchdowns in each of their last three games.
For Cook, the opportunity to move to the kickoff and punt return units, has paid dividends with the junior bringing back the first two punts of his career for touchdowns in District 4-5A wins over parish rivals Denham Springs and Live Oak.
Both scores were instrumental in jump-starting victories for Walker (8-1, 4-1 in 4-5A) which concludes the regular season at Central (4-5, 3-2) at 7 p.m., Friday.
“The bottom line is that he’s a special player and you don’t get these types of players all the time,” Walker interim coach Cecil Thomas said. “I’ve coached five high school All-Americans (at Cottonwood High in Salt Lake City) and he’s right up there with every one of them. When you have special play-makers like that, they can turn a game around. He’s one of the catalysts that makes us go.”
Cook, the parish’s fourth-leading receiver, has exceeded his production of a year ago. He ranks second on the team in receptions to Brian Thomas with 36 catches for 508 yards (14.1 per catch) and eight touchdowns.
He also ranks fourth in the parish with 11 touchdowns for 66 points, nine of which have been on offense. Depending on the situation or the matchup, he’s also played cornerback this season.
“You have to create the best matchups you can to eliminate their (opposition’s) success,” Thomas said.
Instead of dwelling solely on the aforementioned accomplishments, Cook remains driven by the touchdown he didn’t score.
That came during the same game in Walker’s 39-13 triumph over Denham Springs, a game where Cook contributed a 64-yard punt return for a touchdown during a 14-0 first-quarter lead.
DSHS cut into Walker’s lead and trailed 14-7 when Cook received the ensuing kickoff at his own 6-yard line, found an opening and appeared destined for a 94-yard score when he was tripped up from behind at the Jackets’ 12.
Instead of a 21-7 lead, the Wildcats settled for a field goal and 17-7 edge.
“It hurt more than people know,” Cook said of getting caught by DSHS’ Lavar Johnson. “I really wanted that one. It was Denham and it was going to be my first kickoff return for a score. I slowed down. I thought I had it, but when I cut off a block by Calvin (Watson), I figured someone was behind me.”
Cook didn’t allow it to bother him very long.
Walker later extended its lead to 19-13 and was in search of separating itself from Denham Springs early in the fourth quarter.
The Wildcats had driven 48 yards in five plays when on first-and-10, quarterback Ethan McMasters found Cook in double coverage near the corner of the end zone.
There was a delay from before officials confirmed the play that Cook had wrestled the ball away and was credited with a 20-yard touchdown and 26-13 advantage with 10:30 left.
“Once I get the ball, I’m just trying to make a play for my team,” Cook said.
A week ago, Live Oak jumped out to a 10-0 lead in the first half when Cook helped Walker recapture the momentum and pull even at halftime at 10-all.
Cook pulled in a punt nearest the hash mark on Live Oak’s sideline, made one defender miss and continued through traffic until reaching the hash mark nearest Walker’s sideline where the Wildcats had the wall waiting.
Cook raced in untouched for a 51-yard score and came back later, with Walker leading 13-10, with a nice adjustment to the inside on a pass from McMasters on fourth-and-seven that went for a 20-yard score with 3:58 remaining.
Cook’s no stranger to success or delivering in the clutch.
The 6-foot point guard played a vital role in Walker’s first Class 5A state championship in basketball in March, averaging 18.4 points.
College coaches have certainly been watching – in both sports.
LSU and Georgetown are among the biggest of nine scholarship offers in basketball, while Cook has 12 such overtures in football that include Southeastern Conference offers from Tennessee, Arizona State of the Pac-12, West Virginia of the Big 12 and Virginia of the Atlantic Coast Conference.
“I’m blessed,” Cook said. “All the hard work that I’ve put in since I was younger is starting to pay off even more.”