By Josh Rollins
Register-Herald Sports Writer
Football isn’t just a profession for new Westside head coach Larry Cook. It’s in his bloodlines.
“I’ve been playing football or coaching football since I was 7 years old,” Cook said. “I’ve never sat one year out. That’s been going on for 38 years.”
The 45-year-old coach was named the new man at the helm for the Renegades last month, following the resignation of former coach Darren Thomas. Cook served as offensive coordinator under Thomas.
“Well, I’ve been the assistant for 7 years,” Cook said. “He (Thomas) resigned - he’s got two girls he wants to really spend time with and the programs they’re going to be involved in, so it was a natural process that the assistant moves up.”
Cook is no stranger to Wyoming County football. He played under legendary coach John Beckelheimer at Oceana High School from 1983 through 1985. While at Oceana, Cook was named the Hunt Award winner as the state’s top lineman, as well as being captain of the all-State team. He was named to the Bally’s and Street and Smith All-America teams as a senior.
“Coach Beckelheimer was a disciplinarian,” Cook said. “I take a lot of that from him. He was a no nonsense kind of person. A real ‘let’s play ball and compete’ kind of guy. That’s how I am.”
In 1986, Cook made the 202 mile trek to Morgantown and continued his playing career for Don Nehlen and West Virginia University. While initially recruited for the defensive side of the ball, an injury changed his path.
“When I went to WVU I went as a defensive lineman,” Cook said. “I busted up my ankle and got a little bit slower, so they moved me to the offensive line.”
Cook played three years on offense, starting for one year and was given the A.C. “Whitey” Gwynn award, which is given to a student-athlete on the football team whose spirit and character contributes to the team’s success. He was also named a member of the prestigious Mountaineer Club.
Just as Cook takes much of his coaching philosophy from Beckelheimer, so it is with Nehlen.
“Coach Nehlen has a certain way with kids,” Cook said. “He’s a disciplinarian, but he’s soft hearted and close enough to you as a coach that if you ever needed him for anything, he was there. That’s pretty much the way I am. The way Coach Nehlen is, if you want things done right, you do it, but at the same time you want to be accessible. If they have needs or need to talk, they can feel comfortable and trust you enough.”
Cook’s tenure as an assistant is the only time in his 20 year coaching history that he hasn’t been a head coach. He got his first head coaching gig in 1993 at Croton Harmon High School in Westchester County, New York. After leaving Croton Harmon, he became coach at Lakeland-Panas High School in Shrub Oak, New York. While in New York, Cook was award the New York State Region 1 Coach of the Year Award.
After his stint in New York, Cook returned to the coalfields of West Virginia in 2001 as the head coach at Gilbert and served there until 2005.
“I’m just glad to get the chance to come back to my home community and do this,” Cook said.
Unlike many other coaches changes, the cupboard wasn’t left bare in Clear Fork. Westside returns several veterans at the skill position, including soon-to-be junior quarterback Justin Cogar, who was named to class AA All-State for special teams.
“Coach Thomas left the program in pretty good standing, so I just hope to build on the things we’ve done,” he said. “I’ve been the OC and he’s been the DC, so hopefully we can keep things going the way they were. Improve on some things. We want to get bigger, stronger and faster and get a little further into the playoffs.”
Westside will begin their season on August 30 when they welcome Jeff Alexander’s Liberty Raiders into Clear Fork.
— E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org and follow on Twitter at @JDanielRollins.