POCA — By now, many football fans around West Virginia have heard of Poca running back Ethan Payne. It’s kind of hard to miss a guy who’s run for more than 2,100 yards and scored 40-plus touchdowns.
And lately, lots of folks around the Kanawha Valley have learned about Dots sophomore receiver-defensive back Toby Payne, Ethan’s younger brother. Toby has been on a tear recently, racking up seven touchdowns in all sorts of ways in wins against playoff hopefuls Winfield and Sissonville.
But one integral part of Poca’s offense doesn’t seem to get much attention outside of his own locker room, and that’s fine with junior quarterback Jay Cook.
Cook has been the glue guy for the unbeaten Dots (9-0), who lead all Class AA teams in scoring average at 52.7 points per game. Already a third-year starter, he keeps the offense humming with his leadership, his precise checks before the ball is snapped and his accurate passing.
“What we get from him,’’ said Poca coach Seth Ramsey, “is that he’s a calm, steady performer. He has the reins on everything as far as making checks at the line of scrimmage, putting us in good plays and getting us out of bad calls. He does a good job with that.
“A lot of things go unnoticed when you watch a football game, but he makes a lot of checks at the line of scrimmage to make sure that we have a play that gives us a chance to be successful.’’
Cook’s numbers might not jump off the page like Ethan Payne’s, but his output is solid across the board. He’s thrown for 1,217 yards and 18 touchdowns, and avoids the negative plays — throwing just two interceptions and seldom getting sacked. Cook is also quite accurate, completing 66 of 101 attempts for 65.4 percent.
In last Friday’s 63-14 win at Herbert Hoover, he passed for a season-high 201 yards and two scores. As a freshman, he threw for 331 yards and four TDs against Sissonville and last year had 284 yards and five TD tosses in a win versus Mingo Central.
“He’s just a great leader,’’ Ramsey said. “Very reliable and very tough. I’ve always said that if you have a tough quarterback, you’re going to have a tough team. And I believe we’ve got one of the toughest quarterbacks around. He’s just so smart and he’s a winner, and that’s what you want at that position.’’
It also helps to be humble. While the Payne brothers are soaking up their rightful share of attention and acclaim for the team’s rise to No. 3 in the Class AA playoff ratings, Cook toils in relative anonymity from the same huddle. But it doesn’t affect him.
“I’m all right with that,’’ Cook said. “They’re very good athletes and they’ve been playing very well this year. I think they deserve some attention, but I think we have a lot of other guys on the team that deserve attention as well.’’
Cook dutifully points out the work by receivers Matt Stone and Ethan Miller, and also for the masterful job being done by the Dots’ offensive line, which helps Ethan Payne average an astounding 15 yards per carry.
“It’s nice having the weapons we have,’’ Cook said. “It’s nice that it’s all coming together well for us.’’
Ramsey describes Cook as a “team guy’’ who doesn’t crave the credit that a lot of players seek.
“He couldn’t care less about what he does or what he doesn’t do,’’ Ramsey said. “The only thing he cares about is winning ballgames. If you watch our games, the great thing about him is when somebody scores a touchdown, it don’t matter where he is on the field, he’s always the first one who sprints down there and gives them a high five and gives them a hug and celebrates with them.
“If he throws a touchdown and gets hit, or if he’s on the sideline, the first one who goes and congratulates everybody is him. It’s just what kind of a kid he is. He’s a winner, and he’s never satisfied. He’s a National Honor Society guy, and he’s got a great GPA. He’s everything you want in a student-athlete, that’s what Jay Cook is.’’
Cook doesn’t run much, though he’s scored 11 touchdowns in his career, but he can be an integral part of the defense playing in the secondary. Ramsey’s coaching staff prefers to let him sit when the other team has the ball, but there are times when he’s needed there, too.
“He’s one of our better defensive backs,’’ Ramsey said, “but we don’t play him a whole lot on that side. Sometimes on third downs — we try to rest him and keep him fresh and play offense. Against [pass-centric] Mingo Central, that was the most he played defensively. But as we go along, you might see him play even more on that side.’’
The Dots, who haven’t posted a 10-0 regular season since 1978, try to reach that figure Friday at Wayne.