By Joe Scalzo
Jamaine Cook had just finished his Tuesday workout at Youngstown State when he checked his cell phone and noticed a missed call from a 216 area code: Cleveland.
Since Cook grew up near Cleveland in Midpark and since it had been almost two months since he’d been released by the Browns, he didn’t think much of it.
“Right then, I got a text from the exact same number,” Cook said. “It was [Browns GM Mike] Lombardi. He was like, ‘Hey, are you in classes?’ I was like, ‘Yes, I am.’ So he said, ‘I don’t want to mess that up, but we need a running back.’”
Cook, YSU’s second all-time leading rusher, had signed with the Browns in April after going undrafted.
He was cut a few weeks later, then re-signed with the team in mid-August, playing the final two preseason games before getting released.
Cook never withdrew from his fall classes and resumed his schedule after Labor Day while working for just above minimum wage at Greenwood Chevrolet.
Lombardi was offering a practice squad slot, which is worth $6,000 a week. And since the Browns are playing at Kansas City this Sunday, he would only need Cook through Thursday.
Thing is, there was no guarantee it would be more than one week.
“I told Lombardi, ‘I don’t want to drop my classes if this isn’t permanent,’” said Cook, who is taking four classes this fall toward an accounting degree. “And he said, ‘Listen, you’ll have Friday, Saturday and Sunday off because you’re not traveling with the team and I’ll let you know by Monday if it’s short-term or long-term.’
“So that was the deal we made. If it’s short-term and it’s only a week, that’s still a winning situation for me. I couldn’t make $6,000 in a couple months on my job. And if it’s long-term, my professors are going to work with me and I’ll be able to finish out the semester and still be living out my dream.”
The Browns have gone through a litany of running backs over the last few months, losing Dion Lewis to injury in the preseason (which opened up the original spot for Cook), trading Trent Richardson, cutting Montario Hardesty and, earlier this week, releasing Bobby Rainey, which is part of the reason why the Browns had this roster spot for Cook.
He becomes the third former Penguin on an NFL roster, joining Raiders defensive back Brandian Ross and Oakland offensive lineman Lamar Mady.
Cook knows he’ll need time to get back into football shape — daily workouts can’t replace being in practice every day — but he’s not complaining.
“I’m used to going to work and school so this is a huge difference from what I’ve been doing,” said Cook, who will still be 20 credit hours short of his degree after this semester. “I’m a little sore after yesterday [Wednesday] but any time I can wake up and do what I love, it’s a good day.
“I couldn’t ask to be in a better place.”