How a kid from rural Mississippi who grew up riding horses and lassoing steers became an NFL punter begins with a picture sitting in the den of Jaguars rookie Logan Cooke’s childhood home.
Seen in that family keepsake is a younger Cooke — likely 3 or 4 years old at the time — with his grandfather, Jackie, as he kicks a football with his tiny legs.
Cooke, a seventh-round pick by the Jaguars in April who is currently the only punter on the team’s 90-man roster, never outgrew the small-town way of life that involves hours spent hunting, fishing and farming.
And he never tired from his grandfather’s shared passion: kicking a football as far as his powerful right leg would allow.
“It’s something that throughout my life I’ve had a knack for and enjoyed,” said Cooke, who signed a four-year contract with the Jaguars. “I’ve been doing it since I was a little kid, and then I got into junior high and high school and I figured out I could actually be really good at it, so I kind of got a little more serious about it.”
The Jaguars are serious about their belief in Cooke. Two days after selecting him with the 247th overall pick out of Mississippi State, they released six-year veteran Brad Nortman, who spent the past two seasons in Jacksonville.
Moving on from Nortman cleared $2.125 million in salary cap space for the Jaguars, according to the contract analysis website spotrac. And it sent an immediate message to Cooke that the job is his to lose.
“It was odd,” Cooke said. “It put a lot of pressure on me, but it also gave me the assurance that they really like me and really want me here. … I know I’ll still have to compete. Even if no one’s here, I’m still going into that deal with a competitive mindset. At this level, if you don’t perform, even if you are the only guy here, they can wave goodbye pretty quick.”
Cooke developed that competitive mindset growing up in Darbun, Miss., a quiet city about 90 minutes south of Jackson and a couple hours north of New Orleans. (“We have a little general store, that’s about it,” Cooke said. “You can go to that store and get everything.”)
Before he became one of the top high school punters in the country, Cooke and his older sister, Jordan, grew up competing in rodeos. Jordan is 26 and still rodeoing away today, Cooke said.
Back home, the siblings helped their parents maintain about 50 animals — cows, horses, etc. — on the family farm.
“It all teaches you responsibility and hard work,” Cooke said. “That’s actually the reason I quit rodeoing is I had to keep my horse in shape. Once I started really getting big into sports, I didn’t really have time to keep me in shape and my horse in shape, so I had to pick one.”
It’s fair to say Cooke made the right choice.
The Jaguars became interested in the 6-foot-5 Cooke following his productive four-year career at Mississippi State. In 45 career games and 150 punts, Cooke checked all of the necessary boxes. His 41.7-yard average and 35 punts of more than 50 yards showed his strength. His 60 punts placed inside an opponent’s 20-yard line displayed his precision.
Cooke also served as the Bulldogs’ kickoff specialist and could be an option in that role for the Jaguars. However, Josh Lambo produced 22 touchbacks on 57 kickoffs last season and has proven to be a good directional kicker.