By Brad Fauber
WOODSTOCK -- The growth and maturity of Central High School senior Caleb Cook over the last three years is undeniable.
Cook, a three-year varsity starter at defensive end for the Falcons, has steadily emerged as Central's most disruptive defensive lineman over that span. Some of that simply comes with repeated reps and getting comfortable at the varsity level. But most of Cook's success has been the result of relentless offseason preparation.
Cook doesn't play any other sports at Central, so the senior spent all of his down time over the last few seasons tirelessly preparing for the next one, whether it was in weight training classes at the school or hitting the weight room on his own during the summer.
"He was dedicated. He always has been. He's a good kid and he's been a hard worker," Falcons coach Mike Yew said. "This senior class, there's a handful of our 21 seniors -- probably 12 of them -- that really, really committed themselves to the weight room, and it's really paid off for them. Caleb was certainly one of those guys. He just buys into it."
The numbers certainly don't lie.
Through 11 games this season, Cook has 89 tackles (56 solo) -- an impressive number for a defensive lineman -- and is second only to linebacker Hamilton Argueta's 94 for the team lead in that category.
Cook also has 20 tackles for loss -- a team high -- and leads the area with 13 sacks this season. That's quite a jump for a player who managed just two sacks total in his first two seasons at the varsity level.
"I've definitely gotten better. I've gotten a lot stronger and faster since [my sophomore year]," Cook said. "I didn't have any sacks my sophomore year and I only had two my junior year, so I've definitely improved.
"Weight training classes, summer weight rooms, just going in there every day and doing work definitely helped out."
Cook has been a headache for opposing quarterbacks since the Falcons first took the field in a 42-0 drubbing of John Champe in their first game of the season. Cook hasn't slowed since, and Yew said it's no surprise to him that Cook leads the area in sacks this season.
"He started the first week of the season, he had two or three sacks that first game against John Champe and he's just continued on a tear," Yew said. "He's tough to block. He's just a hard-nosed kid. He engages well."
And it isn't as if Cook is a huge physical presence capable of knocking opposing linemen off the ball. Standing at just 5-foot-9 and weighing 190 pounds, Cook may be a little undersized for a defensive end. But what Cook lacks in size, he makes up for in technical ability.
Cook said he simply listens to the advice of Falcons defensive coordinator Rowdy Hoover, which "usually gets me there in time" to sack the quarterback, but there is also a certain amount of mental preparedness that goes into each and every play.
The senior generally relies on a rip move to break through pass protection, which allows him to "keep it as tight as I can to save time and cut as much length out as I can from getting to the quarterback."
"You have to anticipate it," he said. "On third-and-long you know they're more likely going to pass it, so you get in a different stance and you have to have a pass rush move in your head, and always a backup just in case the first one doesn't work. A swim or a spin or something."
Cook said he came into the season with his goal being to average a sack a game, which he has done up to this point. The senior now has his sights set on helping the Falcons (9-2) reach the Class 3A state championship game.
Central's next step in that quest begins Saturday when the third-seeded Falcons host No. 6 Poquoson (8-3).
"That's definitely my personal goal, and hopefully the goal as a team is to make it to state and win state," Cook said. "I don't want it to end, but we know that any game can be our last game now so we've just got to give it all we've got, and I think we all know that so we're never going to give up."
Contact sports writer Brad Fauber at 540-465-5137 ext. 184, or firstname.lastname@example.org