IOWA CITY — Senior athletes in college athletics often develop a heightened sense of urgency as they enter their final season of competition.
It’s a natural reaction. They know they have only one more chance to show what they can do.
But that feeling might be even stronger in Iowa tight end Drew Cook for a couple of reasons.
For one thing, Cook hasn’t gotten to do much on the field in his first four years on campus. And he also has a fairly lofty legacy to live up to. His father, Marv, was the best tight end of the Hayden Fry era at Iowa and Drew would like nothing better than to live up to the standards established by Dad.
“Every day I walk in and I’m kind of in a back-against-the-wall mentality where time is of the essence,’’ Drew Cook admitted. “I’ve really approached every practice with an attack mindset to force myself to get better every day.’’
Even with last year’s dynamic duo of T.J. Hockenson and Noah Fant departed for the NFL, Cook still is No. 3 on Iowa’s depth chart at tight end, behind fellow senior Nate Wieting and junior Shaun Beyer.
But you get the feeling there is going to be a time this season when Drew Cook is called upon to make a big play in a big game, and he’s going to make it.
“Certainly he’s playing catch-up and he’s starting from behind but I can tell you I’m really excited about what he’s doing right now,’’ offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz said.
“He’s handled it very well. I don’t know if we have a guy on the team who’s more committed to being a good football player, on detailing their craft and working on being a technician. He’s doing all those things and he’s really practicing well right now.’’
You have to wonder if Cook might be higher on the depth chart right now if he had begun his college career at tight end instead of starting out at quarterback.
It’s not something he spends a lot of time dwelling on.
“The past is the past but in hindsight it definitely is an element of time,’’ Cook said. “You need time to get better at things. Obviously, you can look back and say it would have been nice to have those two years to get better at playing tight end. But you can only deal with the circumstances you have so that’s what I’m doing.’’
Cook was an all-state quarterback in high school, helping an Iowa City Regina team coached by his father become the first program ever to win five consecutive state titles. He arrived at Iowa hoping to someday become the starting QB.
He redshirted in 2015, did not play at all in 2016 and in the spring of 2017, the Iowa coaches recommended that Cook switch to the position his father played so well for the Hawkeyes in the late 1980s.
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Marv Cook caught 112 passes in his college career, including one of the biggest plays in the program’s history. Faced with a fourth-and-23 situation on the road at Ohio State, he caught a game-winning 28-yard touchdown pass with six seconds remaining, plowing through two Buckeye defenders at the goal line to score.
He went on to catch 257 passes in a seven-year NFL career, twice making the Pro Bowl.
It has taken his son some time to become proficient enough at the position to even get on the field.
Size wasn’t a problem. Drew Cook is 6-foot-5 and was already 235 pounds when he changed positions. However, he had a lot to learn about run blocking, pass blocking and running pass routes.
“Certainly, when you spend your whole life dropping back and throwing the ball and then somebody puts you in a different environment, it’s a tough transition,’’ Ferentz said. “I can’t say enough about how he’s handled it and what he’s done.’’
Cook got to play in five games last season in a mop-up role behind Hockenson, Fant and Wieting, but he never caught a pass, never even had one thrown in his direction. He was injured late in the season and didn’t suit up for the Outback Bowl.
But Ferentz can see the possibilities and it’s not just because of Cook’s prototypical size.
“He runs a little bit better than probably he gets credit for,’’ Ferentz said. “He’s got some speed to him. But any time you have the length he has and the size he has, that’s a tremendous advantage and I think one of the things he’s done a really good job over the past 2 ½ years is learning how to use those advantages.’’
It helps that Cook has a father he can turn to at any time to get tips on the art of playing tight end.
“He’s always there,’’ Drew said of his dad. “Every time I go home, I always have something where I’ll ask his advice on certain things. He’s been a good resource for me.’’
Drew hopes to get more of an opportunity this season, but said all he can do is keep working at it.
“The coaches are telling us that the depth chart doesn’t mean too much right now,’’ he said at Iowa’s media day last week.
“Senior year,’’ Cook added. “It’s the last one I’ve got so I’m trying to make the most of it.’’