Male Athlete of the Year Sam Cook talks about his sports career at Fort Dodge with Joe O'Donnell.
After his senior season at Fort Dodge — wherein he was Class 4A’s fourth-leading rusher in the fall and an unbeaten state champion on the mat in the winter — Sam Cook decided to put his wrestling dreams on hold and walk on to the Iowa football team.
A year later, Cook has had a change of heart. After spending the fall of 2016 as a redshirt on the Iowa football team, he’s opted to step away from the gridiron to walk on to the Hawkeye wrestling team.
“He was fired up when I talked to him about it,” Fort Dodge wrestling coach Bobby Thompson said. “He reached out to a lot of people that are close to him. He’ll contribute a lot, I think, to the University of Iowa wrestling team.”
Cook was a standout two-sport athlete for Fort Dodge from 2013-16. He was a four-year varsity football player and racked up 3,274 combined rushing yards and 41 total touchdowns during his junior and senior seasons — which included 1,838 yards and 25 touchdowns during the latter.
He followed both football campaigns with state wrestling championships. As a junior, Cook went 42-1 en route to the Class 3A 195-pound state title. He followed that with a second consecutive state championship as a senior, when he went 45-0.
After the season, Cook was tabbed as The Des Moines Register’s All-Iowa Male High School Athlete of the Year for 2015-16. His wrestling offer sheet at the time included Oklahoma and Cal Poly, but he opted to walk on at Iowa instead.
MORE COOK: Fort Dodge's Cook the total prep package
“I know he struggled to choose whether to play football or wrestle,” Thompson said. “He had some good offers for wrestling. But he put his heart into football. He thought that was what he was going to do, be a five-year football player for Iowa.”
Cook saw no action during the 2016 football season with the Hawkeyes, though he had grown to a listed weight of 228 pounds, maintaining the wrecking-ball frame that made him a daunting foe against CIML competition.
Now, Cook will trek across the Iowa campus and join coach Tom Brands and the Hawkeye wrestlers at the Dan Gable Wrestling Complex inside Carver-Hawkeye Arena. He projects as a 184/197-pounder, a spot Brands and Co. could use some depth for the upcoming season.
“He was managing his weight for football,” Thompson said. “I know they had him at running back, so he was around 210 or so. But I think he’ll start off at 197. He doesn’t have a great deal of height (Cook was listed at 5-foot-9 on Iowa’s football roster) but he does have a lot of thickness.”
The Hawkeyes had just one listed wrestler at 197 pounds for the 2016-17 season: Steven Holloway, who bounced between 197 and Heavyweight after Sam Stoll went down with an injury. Cash Wilcke also stepped in at 197, going 19-13 overall and reaching the Blood Round of the NCAA Tournament.
Thompson figures it won’t take long for Cook to fully transition back into wrestling form.
“I know he’s a little behind the eight ball when you look at guys like Wilcke, who’s probably slated to be the starter at 197 because of that full year of experience," Thompson said. "But Sam’s a competitor. He’s very athletic and he’s very intelligent.
“I don’t think it’ll take him quite as long to get back into wrestling mode as it might your typical student-athlete, I guess, just because of the kind of personality and character that he has.”
Cody Goodwin covers high school sports, college basketball recruiting and Drake athletics for The Des Moines Register. Follow him on Twitter at @codygoodwin.