For his first three seasons, Cooksey was a backup linebacker who mostly played on special teams. Last year, in fact, he was deep enough on the depth chart that he chose to join the offensive scout team, essentially giving up any chance of playing meaningful snaps on defense. The position he played on the scout team?
Motivated by former defensive coordinator Nate Woody, who stressed the importance of the scout team, Cooksey said he gave full effort in practice as he helped portray opposing offenses for the defense.
“And I started having a lot of fun and I was like, ‘Wow, I wish I went and played tight end somewhere,’” said Cooksey, as former coach Paul Johnson’s offense didn’t use tight ends. “This would be so much fun.”
As it turned out, he didn’t need to go anywhere. When Collins was hired, Cooksey said the first thing he told him was his interest in playing tight end. He devoted himself to learning it in the spring – he was a linebacker at Greater Atlanta Christian and played sparingly at tight end – and has positioned himself to get playing time behind and alongside Davis.
While Davis clearly is the top player at the position, Collins has committed to using all players who are deemed capable of contributing rather than relying only on starters. Further, offensive coordinator Dave Patenaude makes use of personnel groupings with two tight ends. Cooksey, along with freshman Dylan Deveney, figure to see the field plenty.
Cooksey expressed particular gratitude to tight ends coach Chris Wiesehan, crediting him for helping him understand the entire offense and how the tight ends fit into it. He said that Wiesehan has given his time to him and his fellow tight ends more than any other coach he has ever had.
“Hands down – in my life,” he said.
Wiesehan has been likewise impressed by Cooksey, lauding his toughness and leadership.
“I mean he just cares about our program,” Wiesehan said. “He’s a great teammate.”
The changes have altered the outlook of Cooksey’s final season. Last week, as the Jackets wrapped up their camp portion of the preseason, Cooksey paused to look up at the Bank of America Plaza tower that looms over Midtown, the tallest building in Atlanta. He said he thought of all the times he has looked up at the skyscraper in the toil of practice, eager for the grind of practice to draw to a close.
“But it’s a bittersweet moment to be looking up and saying this is my last preseason camp, and it’s an honor to be on the team and finishing out with coach Collins,” said Cooksey, whose father, Tom, played nose guard for Tech from 1976-80.
Davis was similarly reflective as camp drew to a close. He said that he had been trying to slow things down in order to savor the moments.
“Everyone kept asking me, ‘Can’t you wait for the season (to start)?’” Davis said. “I was like, actually, no. I want to take every day as a day and just live every single day up to its ability. And not take one day for granted because I realize how lucky I am to be here. And I’ve lived every single day like it was my last down there because I’ve enjoyed every single second. I truly mean that.”
Davis, who started 15 games for UConn and caught 47 passes, stands to be an important piece off the Tech offense. Wiesehan said that there are 13 different spots across the field where he could be lined up. He can be everything from a vertical threat to a run blocker.
“I can’t think of a thing off the top of my head, growth-wise, that he’s limited by,” Wiesehan said.
Davis has particularly relished his role as a leader among the tight ends. Over the summer, as he was gaining weight to develop his NFL draft candidacy, he met with the younger tight ends – there are five freshman tight ends – twice a week to go over the playbook.
“They know that I’m always there for them,” he said. “Whatever they need, whatever time in the night, just shoot me a text, call me. They’ve done that and I’ve answered right away, so they know that I’m here for them.”
Being a senior and having transferred in has given Davis a different perspective. He spoke of seeing the team from “the outside in” and the special sense that he sees brewing within the team through Collins.
“I would give so much to come back and have another four years here,” Davis said. “The dudes here are extremely lucky and I preach that to them every single day and how lucky they are to be here with this staff, this school. I mean, they really need to realize how lucky they are.”