Clean-cut Case Cook beams confidence as Mizzou's only returning 2020 captain

Eric Blum
Columbia Daily Tribune

HOOVER, Ala. — As Case Cook strolled into a small conference room on the third floor of The Wynfrey Hotel on Thursday for his first meeting with reporters since chopping off his mullet, he still beamed with confidence.

The 6-foot-4, 290-pound Cook was decked out for the occasion at SEC Media Days in a navy suit, yellow tie and cowboy boots. His footwear, he said, served as a tribute to rural Missourians. Cook's a country boy at heart, after all, coming from Carrollton, Georgia, about 45 minutes from Atlanta and near the Alabama border.

Cook, primed to start along the Missouri offensive line for the third straight season, is the Tigers' lone returning team captain from the 2020 season.

Nick Bolton and Larry Rountree have both since departed for the NFL.

More:Missouri coach Eli Drinkwitz shows off his personality at SEC Media Days

"I'm a leader on this team and I don't feel bad about coming out and saying that. Yeah, I'm a team leader," Cook said. "It's up to me to make sure the guys are coming into work every day and we're heading in the right direction. As we've said before, pulling the spear in the same direction, all trying to push in that way.

"That's our team mission, our team goal. My role is really just to make sure that we're doing what we're supposed to be doing, and I'm a shining example of how it's supposed to be done every day. I can't have a bad day, I can't have an off day.

"I've got to be there. I've got to be ready to roll all the time."

Cook has started at right guard in Missouri's past 20 games, one of only two Tiger offensive linemen to start every 2020 game, joining center Mike Maietti, who is also back for the 2021 season after exercising his extra year of eligibility allowed by the NCAA.  

Cook didn't miss an offensive snap last season, on the field for all 731 of them.

ProFootballFocus.com graded him at 84.2 in pass-blocking, the second-best mark among SEC guards and No. 17 nationally. 

Those statistics show a solid player in the league, but the aura Cook showed off this week displayed a deeper level of ownership and maturity. 

Missouri offensive lineman Case Cook answers questions Thursday in the Hyatt Regency during SEC Media Days in Hoover, Ala.

Take one brief occasion Wednesday night when Cook ran into a media member in the elevator. When asked if he was ready for the SEC Media Days spotlight, Cook's answer was: "Hell yeah! We're going to bring that juice."

"That's just Case Cook, man,' Missouri head coach Eli Drinkwitz said. "The dude sported a mullet half his life, so he's got extreme confidence in who he is. But I don't think there's any trepidation or fear in who we are at Mizzou. We have a lot of confidence in the preparation that we've put in.

"We have an edge about who we are and we're going to have an energy. We're detailed. We've got grit and emotional consistency. I think that's what you're going to see, who we are on a day-to-day basis. I love Case Cook. He's played a lot of football at a high level in this league, so he earns the right to tell you he's ready. And he looks ready."

More:Mizzou football looks to establish consistency in offensive trenches

Cook sported one of the Tigers' most recognizable haircuts until January.

After playing every snap of his MU career with a business-in-the-front, party-in-the-back mullet of which Billy Ray Cyrus would approve, Cook headed to the barbershop.

Cook had 14 inches of his elongated locks cut off and donated them to Wigs For Kids, "a charitable organization providing free custom wigs made from real hair to children who lost their hair due to illness, treatments or burns," per its website.

"I feel like he should've kept it," Missouri defensive lineman Akial Byers said with a laugh about Cook's mullet. "It was kind of swaying on the field. You got the hair hanging out the back of the helmet. That looks pretty cool. But it's his decision, he donated it. It was for a good cause."

Drinkwitz advised Cook going into his internships this summer that it was probably best to eliminate that party-in-the-back conversation and focus on the business front.

Drinkwitz first saw Cook with his crew cut after winter break.

"I loved the mullet. The time we spent together was just unbelievable," Cook said. "Honestly, it's a lot to keep up with, and shout out to the ladies out there with the hair because it's a lot to deal with. A lot goes into it, let me tell you.

"I was getting a little tired of it. And then I had an opportunity to donate it for a good cause, Wigs for Kids, and I took it. Honestly, it's time for me to clean up a little bit anyway. I cherish the time I spent with my mullet, it was great times. But here moving forward, going short hair, I might have a couple surprises for y'all with my facial hair moving forward. So just be on the lookout."

Contact Eric Blum at eblum@columbiatribune.com. Follow @ByEricBlum on Twitter.

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