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Hometown Hero: Football DT Marley Cook of Water Valley

A 2019 graduate of Water Valley High School, Marley Cook (#57) is starting his junior season at Middle Tennessee State University.

By Anthony Fiorella Writer

MURFREESBORO, Tenn. — If there was ever a town that embodied a person that came from it, that town would be Water Valley, Mississippi, and that person would be Middle Tennessee State University (MTSU) defensive tackle Marley Cook.

Cook, a guy who plays arguably the most blue-collar position on the field, is a hard-nosed, strong and patient player. All of those qualities he attributes to his upbringing in Water Valley.
From the time Cook was a small child, he was always outside with his brother, Marquis Cook, who is younger than him by just two years. Whether it was shooting baskets or racing around the gazebo in the middle of City Park, to fishing and hunting with his dad throughout the woodlands surrounding the area, Cook loved being active and being outside. All that time spent outside falling and scraping a knee and being patient while hunting with his dad gave him his toughness and patience at an early age.

“Marley was a normal kid, but he always loved getting into something,” Cook’s father Broderick said. “One time I took him to his grandma’s house and we went fishing near her house. He was probably around 9 or 10 years old, and I caught a huge carp. One of the biggest fish I’ve ever caught. He was laughing and came running up and asked if we were going to eat it and I laughed and told him he’d have to clean it if he wanted to, but we did end up keeping it. He’s never been one to eat the fish, but he loves to catch and clean them.”

Football actually didn’t start creeping into the equation for Cook until he was in middle school. Every night after school, Cook and his father would watch Lawrence Taylor highlights, which sparked a then 11-year old Cook to give football a shot. Lawrence Taylor was an aggressive, yet somewhat undersized player, just like Marley Cook is today. That mentality and aggressiveness is someone that Broderick thought Cook could model his game after and become successful as a player. Marley always had a dream of playing in the NFL, something his teachers would tell his parents every year when they asked what he wanted to do when he grew up.

“My dad and I would watch Lawrence Taylor highlights all the time,” Cook said. “My dad told me that if I wanted to, I could be like him, so one day in middle school I finally decided to give football a try.”

Starting out in middle school at Water Valley, which is one school split into two buildings (kindergarten through sixth grade in one and seventh through high school in the other), Cook was of course one of the bigger kids on the team and was put immediately on the offensive line. Playing primarily guard, Cook loved to pull and hit people as hard as he could, just like L.T. did on the defensive side of the ball all those years for the Giants.

“People assume I’ve always played defense, but I actually started as a guard and even played offensive tackle,” Cook said. “Getting into football and just having the chance to hit people showed me that I had the God-given ability to play football and that’s really what got me to where I am now. I never played a snap of defense until my junior year.”

Something else that became a passion of Cook’s that would in-turn help him on the football field was powerlifting. Cook, who just set a bench-press record at MTSU a few weeks ago, started lifting when he began playing football in middle school.

“It’s funny, because at first I never liked weightlifting,” Cook said. “One day my coaches challenged me to squat 315 with one of the high school kids, and I did it. Accomplishing that and the challenge of doing that is what keeps me motivated and why I like it so much now.”

Things didn’t always go smoothly on the field for Cook and the Water Valley Blue Devils, especially in his middle school and early high school years. In fact, his sophomore season, Water Valley went 2-9 despite having the size, speed and athletes to be able to compete with many teams around the state. The leadership is what was somewhat lacking in those years.
Developing that leadership, however, came from the support system that surrounded Cook and his teammates. If you’ve ever seen the music video for the song “Boys of Fall,” by Kenny Chesney, it resembles many small, blue-collar southern towns that love almost nothing more than Friday nights in the fall. The entire town was at the games. Mom, dad, sisters, brothers, cousins, teachers, the barber, you name it, they were at the game. For Broderick Cook, it was extra special for him to watch the games in Marley’s final two seasons, because his brother Marquis, was on the team, as well.

Marley Cook (right) and his brother, Marquis Cook, played together on the Water Valley Blue Devil state champion team in 2018.

Not only would Marley start playing defense, but the literal family support and family-like support from the rest of the town made his last two seasons the most special of his career. As a senior, the Blue Devils reached the top of the mountain and both Marley and Marquis Cook were part of the 2018 state championship team for Water Valley, just two years after going 2-9. People still follow Cook to this day here at MTSU from back home in Water Valley.

“I’ll never forget that summer before his senior year, Marley told me they were going to win state,” Broderick said. “It was so special to see him and his brother play that year. He played through injury that year and really stepped up as a leader. He pushed his team to do better and all of them wanted the state title game. One of the teams that beat them in the regular season they blew out in the playoffs. I’ll never forget when he looked at me and said that they were going to win state. I told him ‘Ok, go get it done son,’ and he did.”

Of course, Marley’s success as a kid in Water Valley culminated in a scholarship offer that he would accept to play football at Middle Tennessee. Sure, it was bittersweet walking the halls at Water Valley his last few months of school seeing the same kids he grew up with and getting to go to Gatlinburg on one last family vacation and bicker with his brother about the littlest things like who was the better basketball player, but those memories from growing up in rural Water Valley are exactly what made Marley Cook into the dominant force he is on the MTSU defensive front.

“It was emotional leaving home to move to MTSU, but looking back, Water Valley made me who I am,” Cook said. “I miss my family, of course, but I have a lot of gratitude for the school, too. All my teachers, coaches and teammates helped me achieve my goals. Without them, I know I wouldn’t be here.”

For Broderick and his wife, Marley’s mother Audra, coming to Murfreesboro to see the pride of Water Valley blow through division one offensive lineman and blow up tailbacks in the backfield is their new favorite pastime. Looking back on raising Marley and his brother, Marquis, and spending time watching them run back and forth from the park and spending time watching them play ball at the school and learn to drive on the small two-lane highways outside town are memories they’ll always relish.

“You always want your children to be young and never grow up, but as a dad it makes me so proud to see him succeed,” Broderick said. “I still go to games on Fridays, and it’s just not the same as seeing him out there. That senior year for him was so special and seeing him interact with the community and talking to people was so fun. Everyone spoke so highly of him. He had passion and it was just fun seeing him grow and become the player he is today. Water Valley is such a tight community, that people still follow him. Lots of people are talking about going to watch the Alabama game this year. It’s been great to see him continue to grow and be a great player.”

For Cook, there’s nothing he loves more than looking up in the stands at Floyd Stadium and seeing those people who used to cheer him on at Water Valley in the stands this season as Middle Tennessee begins its quest for a conference title in the new-look Conference USA. From Blue Devil to Blue Raider, Marley Cook will always embody Water Valley and the man and football player it made him into today.

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