If you haven't yet heard of Northern Arizona quarterback Case Cookus, you will soon. He'll make sure of it.
Case came out of nowhere last season to break multiple records as a true freshman, throwing for 3,117 yards, 37 touchdowns and just five interceptions. His 37 touchdown passes broke an 11-year-old FCS freshman record. He also set a new record for touchdown passes in a game with seven — twice.
For his efforts, he earned the Jerry Rice Award and the STATS FCS Freshman Player of the Year award, both of which are awarded to the most outstanding freshman in the FCS.
His resume already speaks for itself, but it hasn't always been this way. Cookus wasn't even the starting varsity quarterback until his senior year of high school.
"I played it at freshman and sophomore level," Cookus said. "The reason I played wide receiver my junior year was because we had a senior quarterback that was a really good passer and a really good quarterback, he threw for like 2,500 yards. I came in and I just wanted to help the team, I loved playing and I hated sitting on the bench. I told the coach I'd do whatever he wanted me to do and I ended up playing some receiver."
So like many others, Cookus had to wait his turn before taking his game to the next level. Even then he didn't get a whole lot of recruiting attention.
"I think part of it has to do, when you only play one season it's hard to get recruited in the California area. I was only 6-foot-2, I was probably only 170 [pounds], and also we didn't have that good of a season – we were 6-4," Case said.
After not receiving any offers, Cookus decided to attend Ventura Junior College, where a shoulder injury kept him sidelined for a grey shirt season.
Things seemed bleak, but Cookus didn't give up. His family and high school coach helped a lot. "I had my shoulder injury, they told me to push through it and try one more time," Cookus said. "I really wanted to try and compete at the Division 1 level and it worked out for me."
His story took a positive turn when NAU gave him a shot, not just to play, but to start in his first season with the team. Even though the Lumberjack family has been welcoming, Cookus admits he plays his game with a bit of a chip on his shoulder.
"You always gotta have something to drive you," Cookus said. "Every game I come into, I say, 'well, they didn't recruit me so I'm gonna go in and throw as many touchdowns as I can'. That's kind of the mindset I bring, I try to win every game I can and prove everyone wrong."
This mindset is exactly what makes Cookus' story so satisfying. Among the schools that showed interest in him at camps, but didn't offer him a spot were Big Sky opponents Northern Colorado and Portland State. Remember when he said he tries to go in and throw as many touchdowns as he can? "Unfortunately, I haven't played Portland State, but I had a pretty good game against Northern Colorado. I think I had like seven touchdowns. I think I proved them — they kind of bailed on me at the last second. I have nothing but respect for them but I always play with a bit of a chip on my shoulder."
This fall, the sophomore signal-caller is completely focused on the task ahead. "The major goals are to win the Big Sky championship and make a run in the playoffs," he said. "But you can't focus on major goals right now, you gotta worry about one week at a time. Right now, we're focused on camp, and we're focused on ASU."
Northern Arizona will go into their opener against Arizona State as the No. 11 team in BennettRank's FCS rankings. It will be another opportunity for Cookus to go out there and pass on everyone who passed on him.
But in the end, this 'prove everyone wrong' mentality isn't rooted in bitterness. He loves where he's at and knows true talent will always shine through.
His words of wisdom? "There's always going to be guys that are passed up on. I think overall they [recruiters] do a pretty good job, if you can play you can play and most of the times the guys that fall through the cracks end up getting noticed by someone in a couple years. Even in D2 or D3 you have the opportunity to make it to the next level. Overall I think no matter what you're going to find a spot to play if you can play."
And Cookus sure can play.