By JOE REEDY
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — In five weeks, Dalvin Cook has gone from a question mark on Florida State’s roster to students chanting his name for the Heisman.
Last month the sophomore didn’t know if he would be playing as he awaited trial for misdemeanor battery following a June incident at a Tallahassee bar. While the ninth-ranked Seminoles were going through preseason practices, Cook was working out alone and going over plays.
After being found not guilty on Aug. 24, Cook was reinstated and has been the driving force on Florida State’s offense.
Going into Friday’s game against Boston College, Cook is the leading rusher among backs from Power Five conference schools (422 yards) and is averaging 8.6 yards per carry. That is the 10th-most yards for a back from an FBS school in the first two games dating back to 1996 according to STATS LLC. Of Cook’s 49 carries, 11 have been for 10 or more yards.
"I worked every day, going out there on my own to push myself and it is helping me right now. I would have never been in the shape I needed to be in," Cook said of the suspension.
Cook is coming off the second-biggest day by a Florida State back. In last Saturday’s 34-14 win over South Florida, he had 266 yards on 30 carries and three touchdowns. It was the first 200-yard game since Sammie Smith in 1988.
"He could have easily lost focus," said coach Jimbo Fisher of Cook’s time away from the team. "He knew things, the facts of what was going on, and we were fortunate that that was the truth, and very proud of he stayed very focused and committed to doing that. It’s very tough to do."
With an offense that was returning only four starters, Cook knew that he was going to be counted on a lot. Besides being in shape physically, Fisher said he has noticed a more mature Cook who has developed into a team leader.
Cook has five straight 100-yard games dating back to last season, which is one off Warrick Dunn’s school record. In both games this season Cook has had over 100 yards by the end of the first quarter.
"I’m trying to be more patient and coming off blocks tighter," Cook said. "Mostly I’m just looking for the 3-4 yard runs to move the chains and keep things manageable. You take those and you know the big plays are going to come."
Many wonder though if Cook can shoulder the load of the offense over the course of a full season. He showed glimpses of it late last year, including a 31-carry, 177-yard performance in the ACC Championship against Georgia Tech.
While many expected some offensive struggles early, the fact that Cook had 207 of Florida State’s 295 yards through three quarters last week was concerning. Fisher though pointed at one thing — the results.
"Some guys can’t take that wear and tear. His body feels really good," Fisher added. "We don’t do that all the time, but we’ll do it if we have to. If he’s hot like that and he can finish, we’re going to continue to give it to him."
Cook is the first back in a Fisher offense to have two 30-carry games in his career — which he did last season — since Robert Cooper had two at Cincinnati in 1999.
Only two running backs — Cooper and LSU’s LaBrandon Toefield — have had seasons of 200-plus carries in Fisher offenses. The most carries by a Florida State back since Fisher’s arrival is 192 by Antone Smith in 2007.
Boston College is familiar with Cook. In last year’s game, he had six carries for 23 yards on the final drive, which resulted in a Roberto Aguayo field goal and 20-17 Seminoles’ victory.
Fisher said Cook’s GPS monitor workload readings — a system the Seminoles use to monitor stress and conditioning — after the USF game were similar to the opener against Texas State, when he had 19 carries to 156 yards.
In a state that has produced strong backs, none have won the Heisman Trophy. Cook, though, is more concerned about remaining in good shape and the offense’s progress than awards season in December.
"I’ve been taking care of my body and doing some treatment that I know will help in the long run," Cook said. "At this point the offense is where I expect us to be. There is a lot of stuff to improve on. Everett (Golson) is getting better and the offensive line is starting to gel."
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