April 1, 2008

Refocus in classroom key for Cooke

It was just a little over two years ago, but a great deal has changed in life of Kris Cooke, a former Northern Illinois defensive lineman who now calls Joliet Junior College home.

Poised to start as a true freshman, the former two-star prospect from Homewood (IL) Flossmoor suffered a shoulder injury that later coupled with other difficult patches in his life.

"I had a lot of things going on when I started at Northern," Cooke told BadgerBitz.com Monday night. "I was doing very well athletically and I was in line to start as a freshman but then I had an injury to my shoulder. After that, there were a lot of things going on off the field like family issues. That really started to take a toll on me and how I felt.

"I was sort of depressed I guess you could say, and it took a toll on my grades."

It was then Cooke realized a change was necessary. The following semester, he moved on to the junior college ranks in order to improve his grades and more importantly, improve his overall happiness.

Fast forward to the present time and not only does Cooke boast a NJCAA Second Team All-American honor after his efforts in 2007 on the football field, but a 3.8 GPA in the classroom, an accolade that will likely vault him back to Division I college football.

The 6-foot-3, 320-poudner was recently in Madison to watch Wisconsin scrimmage Saturday afternoon, his first true tour of the facilities and campus.

"I was talking with the coaches before and they wanted me to come up to a practice and I just decided to go as soon as possible," said Cooke, who is on pace to graduate in December and will have two years of college eligibility remaining. "I went up there, we watched a bit of their practice, got a tour and watched the scrimmage.

"It was a good trip."

The first time Cooke visited was to spend time with good friend Daniel Moore, a former teammate at Joliet who is in his first season with the Badger program.

Unfortunately for both parties, the second trip did not go as planned after Moore went down with a knee injury early in the day and was last seen exiting the field on crutches.

Cooke was able to speak with Moore, who underwent more testing Tuesday afternoon, after the injury.

"Yeah, his spirits are up; he's a good kid," Cooke said. "He's one of the hardest working people I know and he took a huge risk by leaving Eastern (Illinois) because he left a scholarship, came down to a JUCO and then worked his way back up to Wisconsin.

"When he got hurt, I was heart broken and I know he was, too. But I know he's going to do whatever it takes, so I'm not worried about Dan."

By their recent interest in Cooke, it appears the Badger coaching staff would like to see the duo team on the defensive line on last time, though no official offer has been extended at this point.

"Wisconsin's been giving me the most attention right now so I'm really considering them, but other than that, I really haven't been focused on it (the recruiting process)," he said. "Until I start getting more attention from other schools, I'm really open to everyone. I don't really have one (scholarship) yet, but I know Wisconsin is leaning."

If Cooke continues to dominant approach in the classroom and on the field, his first offer should be on its way.

"Ever since I've been able to get myself together academically, I've been on a roll," he said. "I've been focused on school and working out-I'm trying to lose some weight to be more agile. I know I'm fast for a big man, but I know I can get faster.

"This season, I just want to bring it all and do the best I can so I can be wherever I deserve to be next year."

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