Truckee grad leaves football behind | SierraSun.com

Truckee grad leaves football behind

Sylas Wright
Sierra Sun

Photo courtesy of UNLVGary Cook walked on to the UNLV football team as a true freshman and earned a full-ride scholarship.

After offering the Oakland Raiders every ounce of effort his right leg could afford, Gary Cook has no regrets walking away from his football career and stepping into the real world.

“I had a lot of fun with it,” Cook said of his preseason tenure as a punter with the NFL team, “so I’m not too disappointed …

“It was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Something I’ll never forget.”

Cook, 22, finished up his final units at University of Nevada, Las Vegas last semester and graduated with a degree in construction management in December. He is now preparing to take his contractors license test, he said.

A 2001 Truckee High graduate, Gary Cook walked on as a freshman to the UNLV football team, where he soon took over as the starting punter and was given a full-ride scholarship. There, he developed into one of the top punters in the nation.

During his four years with the Running Rebels, Cook set Mountain West Conference records with 281 punts for 11,430 yards. His senior year (2004-05) Cook was one of 10 semifinalists in the country nominated for the Ray Guy Award, presented by the Raiders’ former star punter.

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Cook did not win the award but received phone calls from several NFL teams, including the New York Giants and Philidelphia Eagles. But the Raiders stepped in and signed him to a free-agent contract shortly after the draft, in part because Cook could place kick and make field goals in addition to punting.

In three preseason games with the Raiders Cook punted six times, averaging 36 yards per punt, with a 44-yarder as his longest and three downed inside the 20-yard line. He also made an extra point and kicked off once.

Despite punting well in those games, the Raiders waived Cook from their roster, instead giving him an option to play in NFL Europe.

At first Cook was willing to play in the league, which stretches from April to July and includes six teams: Berlin Thunder, Amsterdam Admirals, Cologne Centurions, Hamburg Sea Devils, Frankfurt Galaxy and Rhein Fire.

“[The Raiders] want me to get a little more game experience in,” Cook said when first notified of the organization’s decision in late August. “They released me from their roster, but will probably pick me back up when that time comes.”

Sometime between then and now, Cook changed his mind.

“It’s just really hard once you get out of it,” Cook said of the NFL. “I’d rather move on with my life and do something with it.”