Cameron Cook first began playing competitive football when he was five years old.
Like many of his peers, he had developed a deep admiration for the sport.
So much, in fact, that within the first year after making the transition to prep football for Christian Brothers High, he quickly came under the radar by college scouts.
Maryville College in Tennessee was heavily recruiting him, as was Augustana College in Illinois, Tennessee-Martin, Tusculum University, and Aurora University, among others.
But weeks before the start of his senior season, an unfortunate sequence of events transpired during a scrimmage game.
While making a routine tackle, Cook, a 6-foot-1, 180-pound safety made a routine tackle and landed awkwardly on the surface. He lay motionless on the ground for approximately 20 to 30 minutes before what was a stunned CBHS sideline as trainers tended to him.
“One of the trainers asked if I was okay,” Cook told MemphiSport during a recent interview.
For a while, all seemed well for Cook, who managed to walk off the field unassisted. However, after team doctors draped ice packs over his neck, bad news would ensue. After undergoing an MRI and CAT scan the next day, it was revealed that Cook had broken his neck in three places, news that sent shocks waves throughout the CBHS athletic department, a development that effectively ended his playing career.
For the 18 year-old Cook, who will be graduating next month, the news of his career-ending injury was difficult to stomach for someone who clung to lofty aspirations of playing college football.
“I didn’t even know my neck was broken at the time,” Cook explained. “I thought it was a stinger. You know how you get a stinger in your arm? So I just stood on the sideline and watched the scrimmage. But I got a little worried. My neck wasn’t supposed to feel like this.”
Said Cook’s mother, Lakina Sidney, regarding his injury: “It was a mother’s intuition that I knew something was wrong with him. I insisited that they not put him in the game.”
As Cook recalls, he’s fortunate he chose not to resume playing after the unlikely tackle.
“I probably wouldn’t be here right now,” he said. “To me, I think they were trying to say it in a nice way. I think it’s hard for a doctor to tell you that you can’t do something you love. It hurt. I cried. I was like, ‘Why me? What did I do?’ It was my time to shine. I didn’t have to compete for a job. Then I broke my neck before my first game (as a senior). I didn’t even get to set foot under the lights.”
With his football career all but a distant memory, Cook wore a neck brace for roughly five months. Still, after reality had set in, he was determined not to allow his emotions to consume him.
In other words, Cook was a fixture at CBHS’s games, doing everything from inspiring his teammates to assuming the role as he describes as a “player coach” from the sideline.
“I mean, I’ve been with them for four years,” Cook said. “I didn’t want to give up because I broke my neck.”
With strong support from his family, teammates, and the CBHS community, Cook managed to come to grips during arguably his most challenging encounter of his young life. Although the possibilty exist he will never play football again, college, according to him, is a foregone conclusion.
“Basically, he was worried that he wasn’t going to play (football) anymore,” said Lakina Sidney, Cook’s mother. “(Doctors) said he should consider playing a less-impact sport. We cried together. But I’ve always instilled in Cameron that what God has for him, it’s for him.”
Sidney’s son will enroll this fall at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga and plans to major in Civil Engineering with a minor in Graphic Design. For Cook, he has already proven to have found his niche as flourishing graphic designer, a craft he embraced when he was 10 years old with the help of his uncle, Reggie Sims.
Cook owns ICAM Graphic Designs and is considered one of the most popular high school promoters in Memphis and the surrounding areas.
“My uncle is an artist,” Cook said. “He’s not just a graphic designer. I watched him design things on the computer and I just took it and ran with it, and my skills have gotten much better.”
Luckily for Cook, whom his mother describes a “resilient child,” life, as he knows it, couldn’t be any better for someone who’s destined to have a bright future.
Never mind that his cleats, shoulder pads, and helmet are hung up for good.
“I couldn’t be more proud of how he’s handled the adverse situations on and off the field,” said Patrick Cook, Cameron’s father.
Cameron, meanwhile, admittedly accepts the fact that he has likely played his last competitive football game.
“I think I’m blessed,” Cook said with a smile. “Like I said, I could be dead, sitting in a wheelchair, or paralyzed from the neck down. I wished (the injury) wouldn’t have happened. But it could have been worse.”
Spoken like someone who has embraced the real meaning of life.