Connor Cook: You Don’t Need a Title to Lead
Last month, I interviewed for my dream job: to be a first-round NFL quarterback. I went to the most prestigious recruiting convention and was among the most qualified candidates. I felt really good about my résumé: I come from a great program that has produced successful quarterbacks—three Michigan State Spartans started in the NFL last season, and two went to the playoffs (Kirk Cousins and Brian Hoyer).
I’ve been fortunate to have played on great teams, and have proven that I’m a winner. My record is 5-2 against top 10 opponents. I’ve played in a pro-style offense. I can scan the whole field. I’ve dealt with protections and know how to change protections. I can take snaps under center and do a five or seven foot drop, and I’m confident in my arm strength.
Of course, it seemed everyone wanted to talk about one thing: Connor Cook wasn’t a captain in college.
I didn’t go to the Senior Bowl (that was something my agent and I decided, and I don’t have any regrets) so this was my first opportunity to sit face-to-face with NFL decision-makers. The 15-minute formal interviews were an opportunity for them to get to know me on a personal level, but also to show them how smart I am drawing up plays on the board. Beyond my on-field performance, I really pride myself on being a student of the game.
The captain question did come up. Some coaches said, ‘Hey, we know you’ve been asked about this a million times, we don’t care, let’s just talk ball.’ We got right to the easel, where they would ask me to draw plays up or diagnose different coverages on film. But for other coaches, it was the first thing they asked. I understood why they wanted to know. It is a big deal. I gave them an answer that I feel is truthful: I just didn’t get the votes. Being a captain is a title, but nobody needs a title to lead. Not being a captain never hindered my ability to lead, and it never made me doubt myself. It did, however, make me want to work harder and be the best quarterback I can be.
I felt like most teams really understood that, and I think they’ve moved past it. With that out of the way, I proved why I should be one of the first quarterbacks taken on April 28.
The combine was a great experience for me, but I’d lie if I said I didn’t have a few butterflies. Imagine walking into a room of 11 or 12 chairs, and then one chair in the center. That chair was for me. It’s a bit nerve-wracking because all eyes are on you. And the men sitting in those chairs are guys you’ve grown up watching on TV. When I arrived to the Dolphins’ interview, I couldn’t help but notice Dan Marino: I mean, when you grow up watching football, you think of great quarterbacks that ever played the game—Johnny Unitas, Joe Montana and Dan Marino. In the Cowboys, there’s Jason Garrett and Jerry Jones, both icons in Dallas. Once I got talking, though, the nerves settled and when we got to finally talk football that’s when I felt most comfortable.
As for the drills, I actually felt great about how I performed. I did everything but the bench press. At the combine you throw to receivers you’ve never thrown to before, but I thought those guys did a heck of a job. I was 19-of-21 on throwing, and trust me, I remember every one of those throws. I know I sailed high on an out route, and underthrew a dig route. I thought I threw the out routes to my left well, and two out of the three out routes to my right on time.
Preparing for the combine, you are told pretty much what to expect, so nothing really surprised me. I know you are woken up early, and I know they make you take a drug test right away. I know there are pretty intensive medical exams. I know that the days are long and that the timing of the formal interviews at night is sometimes unpredictable. I was surprised by some of the psychological tests, just how long they were. I figured it might take 15-20 minutes, but one was 350 questions! It definitely tests your mental stamina.
From the moment our season ended in the playoffs against Alabama, my life has been a combination of anticipation and excitement. My dream job is within reach, but until the draft, I just have to wait, unsure of where I’ll be picked, unsure of what type of offense I’ll play in, unsure of what city I’ll move to. It’s the first time in my life that I don’t know how things will turn out, so the best way to handle it is just to control what I can. I’m out here in San Diego working with George Whitfield—a coach I actually have been working with since 2013—but football has become my sole focus. There’s no seven-page paper to worry about or exam on the horizon. I wake up every morning around 7 and begin working out by 8. There’s a throwing session, a speed workout, a lifting session, maybe an hour of down time (I usually take a nap), then film study, another workout and before you know it, the sun has vanished. I’m always in bed around 10 or 10:30 and to be honest, there are a few nights I’m out by 8:30 p.m.
I’ve noticed my body change, too, especially since working with a nutritionist. She’s instructed me to stay away from fatty foods and fried foods, and to limit carbs. No In-and-Out, unfortunately, and no snacking before bed. Instead of ordering a burger at a restaurant, it’s usually salad and a steak. Another thing: I’ve consumed more protein shakes in the last month and a half than I did during my four years of college. Some of the fat from my face has melted away. I weighed in at 217 during the combine; usually I’m 225.
Footwork has been something I’ve always worked on, but this year it has been more intensive than the past three summers. At first, George and I just did basic drills that didn’t incorporate a whole lot of chaos stuff. Now, the workouts are longer and the drills are specific to things I’m working on; George often throws tennis balls or beanbags at me while I work on throwing over objects such as brooms. Besides pinpoint accuracy, the big thing is perfecting my movement in the pocket. I am refining the way I drop back and move around and still find a guy down field running a route; I still have to be able to hit him right in the numbers. I’m looking forward to my Pro Day on Wednesday. I think there might be some people questioning my velocity, so I’ll have to throw a couple heaters and deep balls to show them I have the arm strength to do so. I’m looking forward to showing that I’m in shape, and can do a whole 55-70-throw routine and be tired, and that I can be pinpoint accurate the entire time. The big interview may be behind me, and now it’s time just to wait. Honestly, that might be even harder.