MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. — Notre Dame has “Rudy,” but Alabama has Levi Cook, a well-liked walk-on whose story isn’t nearly as well-known.
If you don’t know about “Rudy,” we’ll give you the mini-recap: It’s a popular 1993 movie inspired by former Notre Dame walk-on Rudy Ruettiger. In the movie, Ruettiger’s teammates plead for the coach to put him in a game, and when he gets a chance for one play against Georgia Tech, he sacks the quarterback. The team carries him off the field.
Now, back to Cook. He hasn’t gotten to do anything as dramatic as Rudy, but the 2009 Decatur High graduate got in one play this season for the first time in his college career, and a teammate’s loyalty and friendship helped put him on the field.
Cook is a senior defensive back who stands 5-foot-9½ and 190 pounds. He worked as part of the Tide’s scout team since the spring of 2010, and after three years of helping others get ready to play, his moment finally came when Alabama beat Western Carolina 49-0 in this season’s next-to-last home game.
The Crimson Tide had worked on an all-walk-on kickoff team for use late in that game, which would’ve allowed Cook and several others to make their Alabama debuts. However, after a touchdown midway through the third quarter, the Crimson Tide didn’t score again, which meant no walk-on kickoff team.
“I was on the sideline talking about not getting in the game, and Kelly Johnson said, ‘You can take my spot on punt return,’ “ Cook said.
Johnson is a senior as well and he had walked on at Alabama, too. He worked his way up to special teams and played in nine games last year. This season, he earned the first-team spot at H-back. He has a scholarship now and plays regularly, but hasn’t forgotten the plight of the walk-on, especially Cook.
Johnson said he and Cook became friends when they both played on the scout team. The friendship developed, and Johnson said Cook gave him his first Bible, which he said he values.
“As a former walk-on, I know how hard those guys work and how important it is to get into the game,” Johnson said. “It was something I wanted to do for my buddy.”
Before Cook could take the field, wearing his crimson jersey with No. 14 on it, he and Johnson had to persuade Tide special teams coach Bobby Williams.
“I think we trapped him into it,” Johnson said. “But he agreed. He was happy for him to play.”
When Cook ran onto the Bryant-Denny Stadium turf, it dawned on him that he hadn’t practiced as part of the punt-return team and wasn’t sure what to do.
“I looked at the guy next to me and asked, ‘Can I go block it?’ He said, ‘No, just hold up your guy some.’ I didn’t really do that. I just ran to the ball,” Cook said. “I didn’t do my responsibility.”
As it turned out, the Western Carolina kicker shanked his punt.
“As I get older and a lot more time passes, I’m going to tell people I blocked it,” Cook said with a smile.
Cook is set to graduate in May with a degree in general business. That means Monday’s BCS National Championship Game will mark his final time to wear the Alabama jersey. Even though he got on the field for only one play, rather than 1,000, he said he appreciates his time at Alabama.
“I wouldn’t trade it for the world,” Cook said. “There’s no price you can put on the experience. ... In high school, I was a starter, and now it’s the flip side by doing scout team. It can be humbling in a good way.”
Playing at Alabama in the first place happened for Cook, who plans to enlist in the Navy after he graduates, because of the help of another teammate, quarterback AJ McCarron.
As a freshman, Cook met McCarron when they played pick-up basketball together. Cook mentioned he had played football and liked it, and McCarron told him he should walk on the team.
“I like the atmosphere of football,” Cook said. “I like being around a bunch of guys going for the same goal. ... Even when I’m not at Alabama anymore, I’ll be around football, even Little League or high school.”
Cook will leave Alabama having spent three years on the football team and actually appearing in a game. On Monday, he has a chance to be part of his second national championship squad. How many people in the world can all say that?
Contact Decatur Daily Sports Editor Mark Edwards at email@example.com. Follow on Twitter at @DailyEdwards.