NCF Nation: Steve Dunlap

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. -- Darwin Cook's life changed with one look on one day during his sophomore year of high school.

He arrived home and hid his report card from his mom, Corie Cook, a single mother raising two high-school boys and working two jobs. Cook's older brother had his report card though, so it wasn't long before his mom came calling for Darwin's.

"I had like a 0.3 GPA," Cook said. "I was in the wrong crowd doing the wrong things."

[+] EnlargeDarwin Cook
AP Photo/Chris JacksonDarwin Cook blossomed during his sophomore campaign and had 85 tackles -- second most on the Mountaineers last season.
Normally, he'd be in for a loud lecture or a screaming match. This time, it was different.

"She had just a look of disgust on her face," Cook said. "She had that look of sadness and disappointment and just told me to go upstairs and pray to God."

Cook did. For the first time in his life, he really thought about what his life would look like if he continued down his current path. He decided to make some changes.

"My life just changed," Cook said.

The rest of his high school career, Cook says he managed a 4.0 GPA and was on the honor roll. That's only half the story, though.

Cook's relationship with football was always an odd one. He played in youth leagues growing up, but when he showed up to high school to play as a freshman, his coaches put him at fullback and on the offensive line, mostly at left tackle.

"I didn’t enjoy that one bit," said Cook, who's now a 5-foot-11, 204-pound junior safety for the Mountaineers. "I used to play left guard, too. I used to pull. That’s crazy, ain’t it?"

Motivation to play the game waned. His grades rendered him ineligible as a sophomore while his brother, a year older, played for his team in East Cleveland, Ohio.

"I used to go out in the high school practices just to watch. You know how Radio was?" Cook said. "I used to just watch, even in the rain. I used to be the kid on the sidelines just watching, don’t nobody know I can play football."

He'd played with his brother growing up, and knew he could compete. As a junior, with his grades in order, he tried out for the team. His coaches put him at defensive end.

"I was like, I don’t care. It’s football," he said. "I just wanted to hit some people. I don’t care about no college or nothin’."

After his junior year, Cincinnati offered him a scholarship.

"And at that point, I’m like, I really didn’t know what the scholarship was for, because I wasn’t reading into that," Cook said.

He quickly realized football could be the key to attending college based on his on-field efforts. A couple years after that day when his mom's disappointed face changed his life, he picked West Virginia.

Without it?

"I don’t know where I’d be right now," Cook said.

He came to Morgantown as a defensive back, but when he stepped on campus, he'd never actually backpedaled. His first drill in his first practice came against Jock Sanders, who graduated as the school's all-time leader in reception. It ended with Cook futilely grasping at Sanders' jersey and being sent into the stands.

"It was a rough time my first year, but I kept learning my first year and coach [Steve] Dunlap, he stuck with me and he showed me the techniques and basics of the game," Cook said. "Without him, I’d probably not be here right now."

Off the field, though, his transition was easier after developing good study habits in high school. He's a sports and exercise psychology major with a 2.72 GPA.

"I was really on my books and studying a lot, so that wasn’t really a bad transition, but on the football field?" Cook said. "It was terrible."

That changed his sophomore season in 2011, when he was the Mountaineer's second-leading tackler with 85 stops. Cook memorably scored a 99-yard touchdown on a fumble return in WVU's 70-33 Orange Bowl win, tackling the rotund bowl mascot at the end of his sprint into the end zone.

Cook's younger sister just enrolled in college and he's happy to set an example for his seven-year-old brother, too.

"Growing up, we didn’t have a lot. We didn’t have anybody to look up to," Cook said. "Now, they don’t have a choice. It’s either college or college. Because their brothers both grew up and went to college and that’s all they know."

As for his mom's face when she sees her son? It's a whole lot different these days.

"I just see her smiling all the time," Cook said. "It’s a good feeling."

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