Standout freshman has personality to match receiving game
CORVALLIS - Brandin Cooks has not only been an impact player on the field for Oregon State as a true freshman, he is also a big part of the Beavers' esprit de corps.
'Fabulous kid,' OSU coach Mike Riley says of the flanker, who will be on AT and T Park field a lot Saturday when the Beavers square off with California. 'Everybody likes him. Brandin has an infectious personality. He brings a ton of energy to whatever he does.'
'He is kind of goofy,' quarterback Sean Mannion says, 'but he's a fun teammate to have, a fun guy to be around.'
'Brandin is funny,' senior flanker James Rodgers says. 'He has this little joke, where he can tell you what time it is without looking at a clock.'
How does Cooks accomplish that?
'It's a little trick I got up my sleeve,' he says with a chuckle. 'Heat waves through the air - something like that.'
Riley says the 5-11, 175-pound Cooks reminds him of former OSU great Sammie Stroughter, now with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, in terms of both playing style and personality.
'Like Sammie, he loves to practice, loves to work hard to get better,' Riley says. 'He is a good player, and he is going to be a big-time player for us in the future.'
'I haven't met Sammie, but I've heard a lot about him and watched a lot of (video) on him,' Cooks says. 'He is a great athlete. For Coach Riley to compare me to him, I take that as a big compliment. Makes me want to work harder.'
Cooks enters Saturday's game at Cal with 21 catches for 296 yards and two touchdowns in addition to 30 yards on seven carries off the fly sweep. Not bad for a youngster who started school early and just turned 18 in September.
'For the number of plays he is on the field, the big plays he has made - that's a pretty good percentage,' Riley says. 'He is a playmaker. You can just see him grow as he gets more and more confidence.'
Cooks started the first two games as Rodgers finished rehab from offseason knee surgery. Since then, he has come off the bench, learning as he goes.
'I started the season pretty slow, being so young, getting a feel for the college game,' Cooks says. 'But as the season progressed, I have gotten smarter. Defensive schemes are starting to look more familiar.
'I think I have grown a lot through the season. I am excited to see what I can do these last three games.'
Cooks' father, Worth, is a former Marine who died when Brandin was 7. His mother, Andrea - who works at a construction shipment company - was left to raise Brandin and his three older brothers in Stockton, Calif. They will all be in the AT and T Park stands on Saturday.
Brandin became the best athlete in the family, earning sectional offensive player of the year honors as a senior at Lincoln High with 66 receptions for 1,125 yards and 11 TDs. Rivals.com rated Cooks - who earned nicknames such as 'Human Torch' and 'Sonic Boom' for his electrifying style - as the 22nd best receiver in the nation.
After committing to UCLA, Cooks had a change of heart and decided on Oregon State, where he felt the offense was better-suited for his talents.
On his official visit to Corvallis, Cooks asked to be hosted by Rodgers, whom he says he has admired through his OSU career. Rodgers has turned into an important mentor.
'Right from the start, I liked his willingness to want to know more about football,' Rodgers says. 'That's what made me like him a lot. He asks a lot of questions, and I answer them the best way I can.'
'James has been a huge help throughout this process,' Cooks says. 'He came in to play as a true freshman, too. To have a great athlete like that in front of me is a lovely thing.
'When I make mistakes, he gets on me, but he lets me live and learn. He is there for me when I need help.'
After Rodgers returned to action in Oregon State's third game against UCLA, first-year receivers coach Brent Brennan says he noticed a big improvement in Cooks' performance.
'He started to play so much faster, and he has gotten more comfortable with the scheme and what we're doing,' Brennan says. 'He is making the most of his opportunities in games, which is all you can ask from any player.
'I love his competitiveness. He loves to play. He's tough. The play he was most excited about was a block where he knocked a guy over in his cleats. He is willing to do the little things to help the team be better. And he has a great skill set - speed, quickness and catching the ball.'
Riley says Cooks will be used as a kickoff return specialist next season.
'I'm pretty excited about that,' Cooks says.
For now, he is focused on helping the Beavers finish the season strong.
'I have faith in my team no matter what,' Cooks says. 'The losing this season has been hard. Everyone likes to win. But you have to stay hungry, work harder and do what you can to play better the rest of the way.'