Oregon State wide receiver Cooks looking to break another Pac-12 record against Boise State

ccripe@idahostatesman.comDecember 23, 2013 

Oregon State quarterback Sean Mannion and wide receiver Brandin Cooks have connected for 15 touchdowns this year and 22 times in their careers, making them the Beavers’ most prolific quarterback-receiver tandem. When Cooks won the Biletnikoff Award, given to the top receiver in the country, he gave Mannion a nod. “I have to thank Sean for everything he did to help me get this award,” Cooks said. “This isn’t just for me. It’s for my teammates and it’s for the program. It took a lot of things for me to get this, so it all goes to my teammates.” Mannion has passed for 4,403 yards and 36 touchdowns this season.

RANDY L. RASMUSSEN — The Oregonian

HONOLULU — Oregon State’s Brandin Cooks possesses all the tools — except maybe height — that you’d want in a wide receiver.

Speed. Quickness. Smarts. Strength. Sure hands. Work ethic. Drive.

Put all that together and you get what Boise State sophomore cornerback Donte Deayon sees on video.

“He’s at a different speed than everybody else on the field,” Deayon said.

The Broncos will try to catch Cooks on Tuesday at Aloha Stadium in the Hawaii Bowl (6 p.m. MT, ESPN).

It could be the junior star’s final college game.

“He’s been one of the hardest workers we’ve ever had and one of the best characters we’ve ever had and one of the best talents we’ve ever had,” Oregon State coach Mike Riley said. “The combination of all that has led to him winning the Biletnikoff Award — and he deserves it all.”

Cooks (5-foot-10, 186 pounds) won the Biletnikoff as the nation’s top wide receiver earlier this month. He has the gaudy numbers to back it up.

Playing in one of the nation’s top two conferences, Cooks has broken the Pac-12 record for receptions in a season (120), needs 52 yards against the Broncos to break the record for yards in a season (he has 1,670) and needs three touchdown catches to match the record for TDs in a season (he has 15).

He has caught at least nine passes in 10 of the Beavers’ 12 games. He has gained 100 yards eight times. And he scored multiple touchdowns in five of the first six games.

“He’s really shifty, fast, elusive,” Deayon said, “and he can do things when he has the ball in his hands.”

Cooks also has a compelling personal history.

The Oregonian published a story last week detailing Cooks’ family troubles. His father died of a heart attack when Cooks was 6 years old. His three older brothers have accumulated tales of hardship — most notably Cooks’ closest brother, Andre, who is in prison.

“The day after daddy died,” Brandin Cooks told the newspaper, “it felt like everything went downhill.”

His brothers saw something different in him — some of the same traits that Riley and the Beavers rave about today. Cooks attacked life with an energy and purpose that hinted of a bright future.

His brothers pushed him to fulfill his potential.

Now they see him as an inspiration.

“Even though I was the youngest, I was the only one who made (my father’s death) a positive,” Cooks told The Oregonian. “I can’t forget it, but I can let it fuel me … I realized it young, and they realized it late. But they can still do it. I really believe I can be the one to change Andre’s life.”

Cooks hasn’t indicated whether he will leave Oregon State after Tuesday’s game, but he has little left to accomplish.

He holds school records for single-season receptions, yards and receiving touchdowns — all from this year — and career receiving touchdowns (23).

His goal this season was to make 92 catches for 1,300 yards. He hit those marks in the first 10 games.

“The second I learned what college football was, what the NFL was, I said, ‘I want to do that,’” Cooks told The Oregonian. “I came in here, and I wanted to break records, I wanted to be better than anyone else who had come here. I wanted to set myself up so that within three years, I would have the option to leave.”

Even Riley seems content to let Cooks go.

He seized the opportunity to pitch Cooks on returning to school at Friday’s Hawaii Bowl press conference — but did it in a way so lighthearted that it seemed clear what the outcome will be.

“Brandin will get so much better if he comes back to Oregon State. It would be unbelievable,” Riley said with a laugh. “Everybody should repeat that to him all the time.

“Actually, I’m going to stay out of that one. We’re going to play this game. I’m sure we’ll talk. Brandin will do this correctly. He’ll find out from the NFL where he’s projected to be drafted. If it is best for him to head on, we’ll wish him the best. If he comes back, it’s obviously a big boost for our team.”

And for junior quarterback Sean Mannion, who ranks second in the nation in passing yards in large part because of his uncanny chemistry with Cooks.

Cooks leads the nation in receiving yards.

“They basically throw the football around the clock all year,” Riley said. “They are passionate about what they do. The fact that Sean is the second-leading thrower in the country and Brandin leads in numerous categories is not an accident. They work hard, and they like it.”

All of that work made Cooks’ Biletnikoff win meaningful to Mannion, too. The quarterback watched the awards show on TV.

“You couldn’t give it to a better guy,” Mannion said. “All the stats and on-the-field performance aside, what made me so happy — because I know him so well, he’s one of my closest friends on the team — is I know how hard he worked to become a great player. I’m sure it’s special for him, but it’s also special for me. I’m so proud to be able to play with him.”

Chadd Cripe: 377-6398, Twitter: @IDS_BroncoBeat

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