Feature Focus: Teammates a Key to Brian Cook's College Experience

Senior Brian Cook, after his 2013 Cross Country Federation Title

College photos provided by Press Releases from FordhamRams.com

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There is a fear of change and uncertainty that most people have. We are creatures of habit and are comfortable in surroundings that are familiar.


The college decision making process comes easy to some, but is a burden on many, weighing on students' minds throughout much of their junior and senior years.


Throw in athletics to compound things, and you have a monumental decision that can also include, but is not limited to finances, majors available, social situations, academic rigor, early decision, being wait listed, etc.


"Finally pulling the trigger was (the hardest part of the process)", former Pearl River standout Brian Cook said. "I was pretty sure I was going to choose Fordham (University) for like a week or two. I guess I thought it was going to be more complicated than it was, so I kept procrastinating."


"It was a big weight off of my chest when I finally made the call."


The Fordham junior had plenty of schools to choose from. The 2013 Federation Cross Country champion and three-time All-American on the track boasted personal bests of 15:45 at Bowdoin Park, 5:56 and 9:12 in the 2000 and 3000-meter steeplechase, 9:00.24 for the full two mile, and a 4:10 1600-meter DMR split at New Balance Outdoor Nationals 2014.


A Journal News Scholar Athlete of the Week in high school, Cook thought about his decision for months, not only focusing on track, but thinking about life after track as well.


Healthy in high school until late in his senior year, Cook had his share of bad luck over about a two-year span. An emergency appendectomy on March 31 of his senior season left him unable to compete throughout April into May. He was able to recover to place third in the state in the 3000-meter steeplechase, and the following week earn All-American honors in the two mile and run that DMR split the following day.


Cook had a successful start to his collegiate career. His freshman cross country season began with a victory at the LIU Post Invitational in a time of 24:52 on the 8K layout. He followed that up with a top 20 finish at the Iona Meet of Champs at Van Cortlandt Park and was the team's top finisher at the Coast to Coast in Beantown meet at Franklin Park in Boston.


Then adversity hit again.


Cook was sick for a couple of weeks and clearly not himself when running. He was diagnosed with mononucleosis, ending his freshman cross country campaign.


"After mono, I got IT Band Syndrome from jumping back in and trying to do too much too quick," Cook said. "I've learned from that."


The combination of recovering from the sickness and the IT Band issues delayed the start of Cook's track debut until February of his freshman year. It was not until May when he started to truly feel like himself again and was finally able to run a personal best, 9:05.12 in the 3000-meter steeplechase at the IC4A Championship.


Finally recovered, Cook put in a strong summer of training, looking forward to cross country. However, an Achilles injury suffered in the preseason ended his season before it started. For somebody who had never experienced these situations before, the first 15 months of collegiate competition were frustrating.


"The successes that I have had helped me get through that," Cook said. "I've had ups and downs since getting here. I started off freshman year, had some pretty good performances, and I wanted to get back to that level."


Cook credited his teammates as well in helping to get through those rough patches, saying they were constantly there with positive thoughts and words of encouragement.


It is those teammates that have made the road back so much better. Cook has had his share of individual success over the past year. Last spring, he saw a breakthrough in the steeple, running 8:52.11 at the IC4A Championship and qualifying for the NCAA Regional. After a very solid cross country season, he has blossomed this winter.


Cook ran a personal best 4:06.54 in the mile at the Terrier classic and was the Atlantic 10 Champion this past season in that event. In an early season race on Fordham's home flat track, he ran 8:22.85 over 3000-meters.


While he has achieved various All-Conference Honors over the past three years, it is the camaraderie with his teammates that have made his college experience special.


"The teammate dynamic has been different than in high school," Cook said, while noting that every college is different. "At Fordham, we spend a lot of time together. We are encouraged to room together so we are on the same schedule, not kept up at night."


"You are around each other a lot more, so you become a lot closer with your college teammates. I have a lot more fun winning stuff with these guys in cross country and with our relays than any individual races, because we get along so well."


That group includes Tom Slattery (formerly of Chaminade) and Louis Santelli (formerly of St. Anthony's), who with Cook combined to create a very strong recruiting class from which the school has built around. He was also quick to note his other teammates on those 4x800 and DMR relays he has had success with, including Sean Phillips (formerly of Regis), Mike Campbell, and Fritz Heinrich.


Cook, who very much enjoyed his high school experience, said that collegiate running is different on a number of levels.


"There is a lot more on you as the runner," he said. "In high school, I was like a robot. Whatever coach said, I would just do. Now, coach is there and focuses on our workout days, but allows us the freedom to know what our bodies need distance wise on those other days."


"That's the biggest adjustment I've had to make, realizing or figuring out what my body can take. College training is definitely a step up from high school training mileage-wise. I didn't pay too much attention to mileage in high school, but could tell right away that the workouts here were a lot more mileage so I needed to adjust based on the way my body was feeling."


Cook says that the team is there for each other, regardless of the situation.


"You are around people who have had plenty of different experiences," he said. "When you experience something, somebody can help you because they have been through that or something similar whereas in high school, you usually just rely on your coach or the trainer."


The adjustment can be a difficult one in general, but Cook said his was easy thanks to the upperclassmen.


"Mike Turi (formerly of John Jay-East Fishkill) and Jon Annelli were really important for me in that transition period," he said. "Annelli really helped me with training, running more miles, and making sure I logged those miles. He was my steeple training partner, so he stayed on me about doing those hurdle drills to get better and now I'm doing the same thing."


Cook noted that he did not focus on mileage when he was younger, but his mindset has changed.


"I was always told to keep track of my mileage, but I never really did," he said. "Whenever anybody comes to the team, that's the first thing I tell them to do. It really helps."


Cook, who was quick to note the accomplishments of Slattery (14:15 5K indoors) and Santelli (1:50 in the 800-meters), has taken great pride in seeing his teammates achieving success beyond high school as well. As they enter their final couple of years, they are looking forward to imparting what they have learned along the way to others.


"I was talking to (Pearl River Coach) Hawkins the other day about Dylan," Cook said about recently committed North Rockland mid-distance runner Dylan Serino. "I heard he's really focused on both academics and track so that's good. He's run some really good times so I hope this works out for him."


"I need some new blood to pass my knowledge on to. I had a guy when he was a senior (Annelli) and I was a freshman that taught me a bunch. So I gotta keep it going."


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