He’s listed as a tight end on Idaho State’s roster, but it’s not that easy to define Josh Cook.
At 6 foot 3 and 240 pounds, Cook certainly looks the size of a prototypical Big Sky Conference tight end. During games, however, the Santa Calif., native runs routes and hauls in passes like a receiver.
“He’s a little skinnier. I would say he’s a little more elusive,” said ISU quarterback Justin Arias. “Whereas (tight ends) Ty Graves and Tyler Wright are a little beefier. He’s more of a hybrid between wide receiver and tight end.”
And that’s why Cook stands out among Bengal pass catchers. His unique ability to bridge the gap between two positions — and his football pedigree — have made him a weapon that is just beginning to round into form.
“He’s a cornerstone of our program right now,” said Idaho State head coach Mike Kramer. “He’s very familiar with what he has to do. He’s still not focused as I want him to be, but his blocking is greatly improved, his strength is better and he catches the ball away from his body, which a lot of tight ends are unable to do because they’re really just extended linemen.”
Thrust into the starting lineup as a redshirt freshman one season ago because of an injury to starter Tyler Wright, Cook found himself trying to keep his head above water.
“It was a little overwhelming because I wasn’t expecting it,” he said. “I was anxious to get out there, but I wasn’t ready for it. This season I will be a lot more ready.”
For inspiration in 2013, Cook hearkened back to his time in high school. He attended Mater Dei, a football program that churns out Division I players year after year. Former University of Southern California quarterbacks Matt Leinert and Matt Barkley attended Mater Dei. Max Wittek, who is transferring from USC, was Cook’s quarterback for a time.
Cook was playing big boy football before he got to Idaho State.
“It was amazing,” he said. “There were so many opportunities and I got to meet a whole bunch of people. I played with Max (Wittek) and (wide receiver) Victor (Blackwell), who is now at USC as well.”
Cook said playing with college-ready athletes helped prepare him for what he would face at ISU. The Bengals benefited from his readiness as he contributed 31 catches for 324 yards as a redshirt freshman.
“It got me better with the timing and arm strength,” Cook said of playing at Meter Dei. “They were all about routes and timing. Before and after practice we were working on that and we were ahead of the game. That got me ready for college football.”
Kramer was impressed with Cook’s athleticism and competitiveness, which he saw firsthand on the basketball court.
“He was a starter in the post, and he’s only 6 foot 1,” Kramer said. “He might say he’s 6 foot 2, but he’s not. But he played post. In Los Angeles, there are some pretty good schools with a lot of scholarship guys. He was competitive and a grinder in basketball that showed up in football as well. He’s a guy who’s played against a lot of really good players. But he also knows how to be a big player himself.”
Cook also benefited from a redshirt year when he got to watch former ISU tight end Josh Hill do his thing as a senior. Hill now plays for the New Orleans Saints of the National Football League.
“It was crazy,” Cook said. “I knew Josh was good, but I had never seen him play before I got here. He had a crazy senior season and now he’s out there in the NFL. It’s weird seeing him at Idaho State one year and with the Saints the next. It shows what you can do from Idaho State.”
Kramer sees potential in Cook, potential that can be reached if he continues to work as hard as he has in two and a half years at Idaho State. He also suggests a nickname.
“(Cook) has got to change his first name to ‘Go-to’ because he’s a go-to guy, just like all the tight ends that come through here,” Kramer said. “He’s a third-down guy that Justin (Arias) looks for and Justin trusts. We’re pretty proud of our heritage here at tight end and he has some pretty big shoes to fill.”
With three spring practices remaining, Cook is looking forward to parlaying a strong offseason into a solid fall with the Bengals. He knows there is still work to be done, however.
“I want to see everything come together,” Cook said. “We’ll be good on our run game one scrimmage and the next will be our passing game. We need to get (the) full package together.”
Notes: Junior offensive lineman Christian Diehm dislocated a finger during Saturday’s scrimmage as he was involved in a collision on the sideline as an innocent bystander. Senior cornerback Brandon Golden did not practice Tuesday. He had a slight limp, favoring his right leg. Junior wide receiver Madison Mangum did participate Tuesday, his first practice since week one of spring ball. The Bengals will play tennis baseball after practice Friday as a way to relax and have fun. Kramer says the coaches are undefeated in three years of playing.