Home Local Sports SIGNED: Cook Jr. ‘couldn’t pass up’ opportunity to join Elizabeth City State...

SIGNED: Cook Jr. ‘couldn’t pass up’ opportunity to join Elizabeth City State University

Joey Cook Jr. (right) celebrates with teammate Emerson Wall during his signing day. (Contributed photo by Ashleigh Buie)

ROCKINGHAM — A lifelong dream came to fruition for Joey Cook Jr. on Wednesday when he signed his national letter of intent to play college football.

Inspired by watching his uncles play for Richmond Senior High School when he was a kid, Cook Jr. completed his four-year tenure with the Raiders this past season as the starting right guard.

Cook Jr.’s journey culminated in signing with Elizabeth City State University, an historically black college or university located near the coast in northeastern North Carolina.

Joining Cook Jr. in his celebration were family members, classmates, teammates and coaches.

“I’m feeling great,” Cook Jr. smiled. “It definitely feels like a weight has been lifted off my shoulders now that I know what I’m going to do next after high school. It was surreal today because growing up I’ve been wishing for this day to happen and it finally did. 

“I really felt the love seeing all of my family, coaches and teammates celebrate with me today. A lot of them have been with me since the beginning and they brought a lot of energy. I could tell they were happy for me.”

Becoming the fourth Raider football player in the Class of 2023 to sign to the college ranks, Cook Jr. joined fellow classmates Tyson Holloway (Brown University), Jeffery Linton (Tusculum University) and Taye Spencer (Lenoir-Rhyne University).

Three of the four — Cook Jr., Holloway and Linton — were starters on the offensive line for Richmond in 2022. Offensive line coach and co-offensive coordinator Kemp McSween noted the group’s testament to hard work to continue at the next level.

“Joey is going to be able to compete early on as far as his strength is concerned,” McSween said. “He’s going to be one of the stronger guys once he gets there, but he’s got some rehabbing to do with his knee. He’s good at moving one person from one place to another.

“All three guys were determined,” he added of the offensive linemen. “Jeffery had some success early, but both Tyson and Joey had to scratch and claw their way to get an opportunity with us and the college level.”

Cook Jr. explained that ECSU was one of a handful of college programs to offer him — the others being Greensboro College, Louisburg College and North Carolina Wesleyan University. The Vikings officially offered him on May 2.

“At the beginning of March, their offensive coordinator Coach Matt Finnin reached out and gave me an opportunity that I couldn’t resist,” Cook Jr. said. “He told me they needed big, dominant men up front and said the team liked the way that I played in high school. 

“He also told me I have a chance to compete for a starting role, and that had me hooked. Now I’m ready to come in and compete to help the team.” 

With other offers on the table, Cook Jr. explained that one thing that helped him make his final decision was ECSU’s history and culture.

“I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to go to an HBCU,” Cook Jr. said. “I’ve heard so much about the HBCU culture and a lot of great stories, which made me want to explore it.

“This was always a route that I wanted to pursue,” he added. “With the football team, I really liked the coaches and liked the idea of how they’re viewed as underdogs. I want to show everyone that we can win, which is a similar situation to my senior year (at Richmond).”

Lined up next to Holloway on the right side this past fall, Cook Jr. earned his starting spot for the Raiders. In the trenches, Cook Jr. helped pave the way for the Raiders to average 24.5 points per game.


Creating time and space for the offense to unfold, Cook Jr.’s efforts contributed to Richmond moving the ball for 2,069 rushing yards (188.1 yards per game) and 1,295 passing yards (117.7 yards per game). 

During his time with the Raiders, Cook Jr. attributed the program’s grit and toughness as major components to help get him ready for the next level. His fellow offensive lineman were also a big help.

“Richmond’s intensity really helped me,” Cook. Jr. explained. “Our coaches always told me that it’s going to be 10 times more intense in college and that gave me a better understanding of what to expect.

“Being the third guy on the offensive line to play in college means a lot. When I told Tyson and Jeff about the offer, they both said they were proud of me. Tyson and I have been lining up together on the right side since middle school, and I’ve played with Jeff a long time, too. We all helped each other get better.”

Richmond head coach Bryan Till pointed to Cook Jr.’s desire to want to learn and get better as a reason why he’ll soon be a future Viking.

“This is a testament to his determination and hard work,” Till shared. “He’s continued to pursue opportunities and apply to schools. 

“I’m happy he’s getting an opportunity considering how hard he’s worked at it. He had to work his way up here and to watch him get this opportunity equates to what he’s done and what he can accomplish.”

Motivation has come in many forms over the years for Cook Jr., but it was the early influence from his uncles Elijah Cook, Tyler Cook, Junior Wall and Walter Lee Wall that really pushed him.

“My uncles molded me to love the sport and made me want to be successful at it,” Cook Jr. said. “I remember watching them play when they were Raiders and it inspired me to want to do the same thing.

“And I have to thank Jalen David,” he added. “Before he passed away, we always talked about what our signing days would be like. He was so competitive and we pushed each other to be better. I’m happy I got to spend time with him.”

Elizabeth City State, which competes in the Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association, went 2-8 last season in head coach Marcus Hilliard’s first season. The Vikings defeated Winston-Salem State University and Lincoln University.

As the program continues to build under Hilliard, Cook Jr. hopes to be a part of that growth and contribute in the trenches.

“I’m really ready to make new relationships with my teammates and learn the playbook inside out,” Cook Jr. closed. “I want to help the team be successful, and the main thing is to be coachable. Hopefully that will allow me to see the field early in my career.”

Cook Jr. plans to major in business management and graphic design when he reports to ECSU later this summer. He expects to compete for a starting job as an interior offensive lineman.

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Kyle Pillar is a 16-time North Carolina Press Association award-winning sports editor with The Richmond Observer. Follow the sports department on Twitter @ROSports_ for the best in-depth coverage of Richmond County sports.