Prep football: Madison’s Cooke finds motivation, focus on the gridiron

MADISON TWP. — When Cameron Cooke talks about the importance of Madison High School football in his life, he’s not just talking about wins and championships and celebrations.

For Cooke, a senior linebacker, it means an awful lot more.

“Football has taught me more than just how to down-block someone and catch a ball,” he said. “It’s taught me a lot in life.”

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Certainly Cooke wants to add to his on-field experiences with the Mohawks, who are 12-0 and trying to win the Division V state championship. They will continue on that path Saturday night when they face Wheelersburg for the Region 20 title at Hilliard Darby.

Cooke is sure Madison will be ready to play. He believes the Mohawks will get three more wins and be state champions for the first time.

“It’s amazing. We’re out there eating for it every day,” Cooke said. “We’re on a grind. Everything seems right. We have so much heart behind all this. I don’t think we’ll let anybody stop us.”

He’s a 5-foot-8, 155-pound inside backer, the kind of guy that doesn’t pass the eye test, but will go to war on every inch of the field.

Cooke has traveled an uneven road to get here. He lost his father, Anthony Craig Cooke, and a sister years ago. His mother, Ashley Nicole Hamilton, died in the spring of his sophomore year.

It was her death that led to Cameron’s decision to skip football last season, even though he’d been playing the sport since the second grade.

“My life kind of hit me hard,” Cooke said. “I didn’t want to be around anyone at all at first. I could barely keep my head right for school.

“When my mom passed, a lot of stuff just went downhill for me. The only thing I looked forward to was her being at my games. That was one of the key things that made me want go to out there and play and practice every day.”

He knows his mom made some bad choices in her life, and he’ll admit that he’s done the same. But there is still that bond, that mother-son love, and he won’t let it disappear.

The structure that comes with playing football is vital for Cooke, and he didn’t have it last year. But he went to every game and watched Madison make it all the way to the state semifinals for the first time in school history.

“As soon as I saw the first game, I was ready to be out there with them,” Cooke said. “I regret not playing completely. I was mad at myself for not playing.

“Football really keeps me out of trouble. It keeps my head straight. Even if I didn’t have anyone to tell me to get good grades, I know I have to get good grades if I want to play football. That was another thing that was pushing me.”

Cooke lives with his grandparents and a couple cousins — “They’re like my little brothers, really,” he said — right now. He said his grandparents make a difference in his life every day.

“They’re at every game. They support me,” Cooke said. “I thank them a lot for what they do because they really didn’t have to do any of it. They didn’t deserve to have to raise three or four more kids. But they do it because they love me, and I’m thankful for them.”

Madison coach Steve Poff said Cooke’s situation makes him a little different on this team. That doesn’t mean he gets special treatment. It just means the coaches and players keep an eye on him and try to help him out whenever they can.

“It’s definitely family to me,” Cooke said. “Guys on the team text me every day and say ‘Hey, Cookie, do you need a ride to practice?’ because they know I’m not luxurious enough to have a car right now. They look out for me. It’s nice.”

“He still has struggles every single day,” Poff said. “Every day we call him in and tell him we love him, but he follows the rules. He knows if he doesn’t, there will be repercussions.”

On the field, Cooke has more determination than pure athleticism. He rotates through the middle linebacking corps with senior Evan Crim and sophomore Devin Oligee.

Cooke has one interception, which came in the season opener against Franklin. He’s also run the ball three times for 85 yards and a touchdown.

“I’m not the strongest guy or even close to it, but once I go out there, I’m giving my everything and doing what I’m doing,” Cooke said. “Even when I make a play, I usually find out I didn’t do something exactly the way I was supposed to. But I did something.”

“Relentless effort,” Poff said. “He’s got great speed, he’s good with his hands for being undersized, and he’s very good on special teams. He had some big tackles in the Portsmouth game (in Week 11), a 140-pound dude running past a bunch of giant dudes and making it happen.”

Cooke said he feels a sense of pride when he hears his name being announced as a Madison starter before games. He can’t wait to get a shot at Wheelersburg after watching last year’s state semifinal.

“What I realize now is that I’m doing it for my parents,” Cooke said. “Wheelersburg is good, but I feel like they haven’t seen an opponent like this, an opponent willing to come out and fight as hard as we will. We have to be sure we’re going to win without being cocky about it.”

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