#ItMightMeanTooMuch: How a 145-pound high school benchwarmer became a Georgia walk-on
This column is usually reserved for me poking fun at the extreme lengths that SEC fans/players/coaches go to for their team.
Candler Cook’s story is wild, even by the standard that’s been set here on a weekly basis. But make no mistake, there will be no poking fun this week. After reading Cook’s new book “From Underdog to Bulldog” and talking with him, I have nothing but respect for the lengths he went to in order to accomplish his goal of appearing in one Georgia football game in 2011.
So how in the world did a fourth-string, 145-pound high school benchwarmer transform into a 265-pound Georgia defensive lineman in just a few years? And why?
The “why” is the reason that Cook relates to #ItMightMeanTooMuch. Just like Rudy was with Notre Dame, Cook was a diehard Georgia fan who wanted nothing more than to wear the red and black. He grew up going to games at Sanford Stadium with his dad and made up his mind that he would do whatever he could to play for Georgia (he didn’t even apply to another school).
The problem was that Cook’s genetics weren’t exactly on his side. At Westminster (Ga.), he played tight end and linebacker, but he was buried on the depth chart even as a senior. When Cook asked to participate in walk-on tryouts as a freshman at UGA, he weighed 145 pounds. He would have been small for a specialist, much less where he was trying to make the team at linebacker.
That leads us to the “how.”
How in the world was a 145-pound high school benchwarmer ever going to see the field playing for one of the premier programs in college football? Well, the obvious thing that Cook realized immediately was that he had to put on weight. Like, yesterday.
He ate, ate again and then ate some more. Six meals a day turned into 7 meals a day. And when Cook’s weight plateaued after he was cut a second time, he bumped it up to 10 meals a day. In his final 2 years in Athens, Cook consumed 2 gallons of whole milk (4,800 calories) and 3 gallons of water per day. He took in at least 15,000 calories per day — he stayed away from desserts and foods with high fat content while eating protein-rich foods and good carbohydrates — to get all the way up to 265 pounds.
“I was pretty much never hungry for a 4.5-year period of my life,” Cook said on The SDS Podcast.
The eating was such a big part of Cook’s plans that he had to adjust his class schedule around it. One time when Cook was taking a 3-hour final exam, he busted out a container of potatoes and started eating. A girl in his class looked at him and asked “is that a potato?” To which, Cook nodded and continued taking his exam (he wolfed down 2 potatoes and drank a protein shake by the time he left class that day).
The eating, however, was just the half of it. The training was the real reason that Cook not only survived Georgia’s mat drills — an intense offseason training regimen during the offseason that starts at 4:30 a.m. that usually weeds out the walk-ons — but that he was leading them by the time he was a senior.
When Cook started his pursuit, he was in a much deeper hole than anyone he was surrounded by (as a high school senior he benched 165 pounds, squatted 190 pounds and ran the 40-yard dash in 5.6 seconds). Fortunately, Cook was working with a 6-3 frame so there was plenty of room to add muscle.
The same guy who admittedly viewed working out as a chore in high school basically made it his full-time job at Georgia. When he wasn’t training with the walk-ons, Cook did his own workouts. The goal was simple — get bigger, faster and stronger. That, combined with his nutrition plan was the only way he’d even have a sliver of a chance at running out of the Sanford Stadium tunnel one day.
“There were moments were it seemed like I was doing everything I could but I was just up against a wall,” Cook said on The SDS Podcast.
(This is the part where you’re picturing Rudy getting rejection letter after rejection letter and him debating if he wants to quit the team.)
The time in Cook’s journey when the average person would have given up was when he got essentially a performance review letter from a Georgia assistant after his redshirt sophomore year. Among the bullet points listed were:
- Leveled off in development with strength
- Body cannot handle any more weight
- Doesn’t have fast-twitch muscle needed to play in the SEC
- Too small
- Too slow
And it ended with “he is a Division III football player at best and should strongly consider giving it up.”
So what did Cook do? He didn’t shred the review as his roommate asked if he would. Instead, Cook made copies of it. To this day, he cites that as the fuel that motivated him to get to where he was as a senior.
Cook moved from linebacker to defensive end, where he had never played before (a ton of YouTube videos helped him learn technique). That minimized his lack of speed and instead allowed his continued muscle growth to shine.
That move paid off. It’s what allowed Cook to not only dress in multiple games as a senior, which not even all scholarship players get to do depending on whether it’s a home/road, conference/nonconference game, but he got to appear in a game against New Mexico State in 2011.
In total, Cook went 1,543 days between asking to try out and playing in that game as a senior. He gained 120 pounds and accomplished weightlifting goals of power-cleaning 300 pounds, bench-pressing 400 pounds, squatting 500 pounds and dead-lifting 600 pounds.
Cook’s story is a reminder — albeit an extreme one — of what some people are willing to go through to play college football on the biggest stage. It’s easy to overlook things like that when it’s Cupcake Week and Georgia is up 56-3. Had the Dawgs not set a program record with 42 points in the second quarter that day, there’s a good chance that Cook never would’ve gotten into that game and accomplished his dream of playing in a Georgia football game (it was UGA’s last non-conference home game of the season).
You have to be wired differently to do something like that for essentially 1 moment. Cook didn’t listen when a coach told him that he’d never make it, nor did he care when a classmate gave him a weird look for eating potatoes during an exam. Nothing got in his way.
And now, he’s got one heck of a story to tell.