By Scott Sudikoff
Harvard senior wide receiver Jack Cook is coming off a 2018 season that saw him become one of the best pass catchers in the Ivy League. For the economics concentrator from Shaker Heights, Ohio, football has been a way of life since an early age.
Cook, whose father Kevin was a four-year letter-winner at the University of Virginia in the late 1980's, started playing organized football in the fifth grade.
"I fell in love with it the from the get-go," said Cook. "Coming from a football family, I was already around it."
On top of that, being in a football hotbed like the Cleveland area was more fuel to the fire for Cook.
"Cleveland has always been a football city and will always be a football city," Cook explained. "Ohio is just as big as any of those other areas when it comes to high school football."
Growing up, Cook was never the largest of the players out on the field, but that did not deter his love and passion for the sport.
"I was never the biggest kid on the field, but usually I was fast enough and big enough to survive," stated Cook. "Practice was always something I looked forward to."
In those early years, it's no surprise that his father was one of his big influences when it came to the game. Kevin Cook had an outstanding 1987 season at defensive back for Virginia, which included eight interceptions. He ended up with 14 career interceptions over a three-year college career that was cut short by a year due to a serious shoulder injury.
"He coached me up until high school," Cook added. "There were times when I hated him, but the more I look back on it, he was only trying to do what was best for me. He was a great influence and a great resource."
While in high school at Saint Ignatius in Cleveland, Cook not only saw time as a wide receiver, but also in the defensive backfield like his father.
"I'd play the offensive line if I needed to, I like the game that much," Cook quipped. "Wherever I can get on the field and contribute, I'll play."
That attitude helped lead him to a successful high school career. According to Cook, no freshman has ever played higher than the freshman team at Saint Ignatius, but Cook did find himself suiting up for the varsity squad as a sophomore. The real breakthrough came as a junior, and it was at that time that he decided to focus even more on football.
"I played baseball for a few years, but after junior year [of football] my coach sat me down," Cook explained. "He said if I wanted to do this football thing, [running] track would be really good."
With that advice, Cook decided to forgo playing baseball in his junior and senior years and ran with the track team in the spring instead.
"It was maybe the most instrumental thing [for my career] taking [track] up," continued Cook.
In the end, Cook became a three-time letter-winner on the football team and was senior captain at Saint Ignatius, while also earning two letters on the track team. On top of that, he received the Northeast Ohio Chapter of the National Football Foundation and College Hall of Fame Scholar-Athlete Award.
The process of ending up at Harvard began in the second semester of Cook's junior year. Harvard Assistant Head Coach Joel Lamb '93, who is the recruiting coordinator for the state of Ohio, was the first to contact Cook.
"I always thought I'd reach the college level," remarked Cook. "Where? I didn't know, but my dad probably believed even more than I did at times."
Along with Harvard, Cook entertained the idea of attending the likes of Yale, M.I.T., or even his father's alma mater, the University of Virginia.
"I wanted to use football to get into a school I wouldn't otherwise get into," explained Cook. "It came down to the fact that you can point to guys from the Ivy League who have made it to the NFL, or I can take the degree [from Harvard] and that'll open a lot of doors."
Another factor into Cook and his family realizing Harvard was the place to be, was an interaction he had on campus when he was attempting to visit the football offices.
"I was walking around with my dad, and we were completely lost," Cook described. "We had no idea where the athletic facilities were!"
It was then that they bumped into a helpful student.
"He said, 'My name is Ryan, I'm a junior tight end,'" Cook explained. "He pointed us to the river, and told us to walk there, take a right, and you'll find the football office."
"I saw first-hand, someone going out of his way to make an introduction, and help me out," said Cook. "As far as we saw it, there was only one decision to make [choosing Harvard]. Everything else was just icing on the cake."
After only 11 catches combined in his first two seasons, Cook led the Ivy League in 2018 with 18.57 yards per reception, finishing the year with 21 catches and 390 yards. Most notably, he set a new school record with a 92-yard touchdown catch against Columbia.
"Jack came to Harvard as a good player, but his work ethic and self-motivation has allowed him to become one of the top wide receivers in the Ivy League," said The Thomas Stephenson Family Head Coach for Harvard Football Tim Murphy. "By virtue of his humility and class he has earned the respect of everyone connected with the program."
Cook is poised to continue the upward trend in 2019.
"I'm definitely excited [for the season] and I have a lot to prove," declared Cook. "Our ground game is really good, so hopefully for all of us in the receiving corps, we'll have more opportunities for 1-on-1 coverage."