Mountain West Notebook

Mountain West notes: Norvell says Elijah Cooks coming back for 6th year

Nevada’s Elijah Cooks outjumps Idaho State’s Josh Alford for the touchdown Sept. 11, 2021 in Reno. (Photo: Thomas Ranson/NNG)

Nevada’s Elijah Cooks outjumps Idaho State’s Josh Alford for the touchdown Sept. 11, 2021 in Reno. (Photo: Thomas Ranson/NNG)

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Elijah Cooks is coming back for his sixth season with the Nevada Wolf Pack football program.
Cooks, who joined the Wolf Pack as a true freshman in 2017, has missed the majority of the past two seasons because of injuries. The 6-foot-4, 215-pound wide receiver has played just five games over the last two years combined, catching 15 passes for four touchdowns.
“He told me he plans on coming back,” Wolf Pack coach Jay Norvell said after Saturday’s 52-10 win at Colorado State. “We’re real excited about that, getting him to play one more year. It’s a great thing for the program.”
Cooks’ best year with the Wolf Pack was in 2019 when he caught 76 passes for 926 yards and eight touchdowns. Cooks has caught 115 passes for 1,478 yards and 18 touchdowns in his career in just 39 games. He also played four games (four total minutes, one rebound, four fouls) with the 2017-18 Wolf Pack men’s basketball team.
The Wolf Pack once again will have a crowded group at wide receiver next year with Cooks back on the roster. Melquan Stovall, Romeo Doubs, Tory Horton and Justin Lockhart, who all played major roles this year, will be eligible to return in 2022, though Doubs could jump to professional football.
STRONG SETS ANOTHER RECORD: Wolf Pack quarterback Carson Strong tossed four touchdowns against Colorado State last Saturday and now has a school-record 36 touchdown passes this year, breaking Chris Vargas’ 1993 record of 34.
Strong also owns the single-season Pack records for completions (366) and attempts (523), eclipsing Vargas’ 1993 records of 331 attempts and 490 completions.
Vargas, who played in just 11 games in 1993, still owns the Pack single-season record of 4,265 yards. Strong, who can still play in a bowl game next month, has 4,175 yards.
Vargas averaged 30.1 completions, 44.5 attempts, 387.7 yards and 3.1 touchdowns each game in 1993. Strong is averaging 30.5 completions, 43.6 attempts 347.9 yards and 3.0 touchdowns a game this year.
Vargas led the nation in 1993 in completions, attempts, yards and touchdowns. Strong is currently fourth in yards, sixth in touchdowns and third in completions.
Former Wolf Pack quarterbacks Stan Heath (2,210 in 1948) and Mike Maxwell (3,611 in 1995) also led the nation in passing yards. Heath was the first quarterback in college football history to pass for over 2,000 yards in a season.
STRONG, DOUBS, TURNER COULD SIT OUT BOWL: Norvell said he will help Strong, Doubs and tight end Cole Turner make their decisions about whether to play in the Pack’s bowl game.
“We’ll talk to them about it,” Norvell said. “I’ll get on the phone in the next couple of days. I have a lot of friends who are general managers and run scouting departments in the NFL. I’ll call several of those people and ask their opinions on Romeo, Cole and Carson. We want what is best for those guys.”
Strong has taken a physical beating this year playing behind a struggling Wolf Pack offensive line that has allowed 39 sacks for 248 yards in losses. Strong was sacked three more times against Colorado State despite playing just two-plus quarters and throwing just 22 passes.
The Wolf Pack, Norvell said, took Strong out of the Colorado State game because of an injury scare.
“He got hit on his knee and it kind of scared him more than anything,” Norvell said. “He heard a pop and it was probably just some scar tissue (Strong had off-season knee surgery) breaking up. He was fine.
“But we didn’t want to mess around with him. We’ve been fortunate with him this year he hasn’t gotten any major injuries. We’ve been kind of skating the edge for a long time and we didn’t want him hurt at this point.”
PACK LUGGAGE SEARCHED: Norvell said his luggage was searched before Saturday’s win over Colorado State.
“The police stopped us and one of those sniffing dogs thought a bomb was in my luggage,” Norvell said. “I told them, ‘I don’t know if there’s a bomb in there but our game plan is in there and there’s some bombs in our game plan.”
One of those Pack bombs resulted in a 66-yard touchdown pass from Strong to Doubs in the third quarter for a 38-7 lead.
“If there is one play to remember Carson Strong and Romeo Doubs that would be it,” Norvell said. “The play, in fact, is called ‘The Bomb.’ Those guys love to throw bombs.”
Norvell then reminded everyone that Strong, who is expected to be drafted into the NFL this spring, might never play again for the Pack. The TD pass to Doubs was his final play on Saturday.
“That play was the perfect way for him to end his last game and a perfect way for him to finish with Romeo,” Norvell said.
SAN JOSE STATE FALLS BACK: The San Jose State Spartans stunned the Mountain West in 2020, winning the conference championship and finishing 7-1.
The Spartans, which joined the Mountain West in 2013, had never had a winning record since 2012 in the Western Athletic Conference. Their appearance in the Arizona Bowl last year against Ball State (a 34-13 loss) was their first postseason action in five years.
The Spartans’ struggles, though, returned this year with a 5-7 record and falling short of bowl eligibility.
“When we started here, I would have begged for a 5-7 record,” said San Jose State coach Brent Brennan, who took over the program in 2017 and went 3-22 over his first two seasons. “Now I’m pissed off. So things are changing here and that’s good.”
San Jose State is just one of four teams in the 12-team Mountain West this season that failed to become bowl eligible along with Colorado State (3-9), New Mexico (3-9) and UNLV (2-10).
UTAH STATE SHOWS KINDNESS TO NEW MEXICO: New Mexico lost to Utah State 35-10 last weekend in Albuquerque but New Mexico coach Danny Gonzalez said it could have been a lot worse.
"(Utah State coach) Blake (Anderson) is a good guy," Gonzalez said. "He's a friend of mine and a good coach. They did not try to run up the score on us. That's the first time all year an opponent did not try to run up the score on us. And I have no problem if they do. But Blake was a nice guy to us."
Gonzalez got emotional talking about Anderson after the loss.
"One of our young men was laying there with his ankle 180 degrees pointed the other way and Blake knelt down by him and prayed over him (offensive lineman Radson Jang). That's what kind of man Blake Anderson is. I thought that was awesome."
WILD OFF-SEASON EXPECTED: Brennan said this college football off-season will be a unique experience for all schools because of an expected dramatic increase in player transfers.
“The NCAA allowed us to go over 85 scholarships this year (because of COVID-19 in 2020) and this year it is going back to 85,” Brennan said. “That means that there just won’t be roster spots for a lot of players at their current schools. I would think that between 1,200 and 1,500 players will enter the transfer portal all across America. It’s going to be a real interesting puzzle we will all have to put together.”
College coaches are expected to put as much recruiting emphasis on the transfer portal this year as they do on high school and junior college talent.
Norvell said he plans on spending considerable time recruiting this week and next before the Pack focuses on its bowl practices.
“I’m not even flying back home with the team,” Norvell said on Saturday night in Colorado. “I’m going recruiting in Colorado, Texas, Arizona and California. We haven’t been out recruiting in two years (because of COVID-19 last year) so it’s going to be full bore recruiting, trying to get the next crop of Carson Strongs and Romeo Doubs here to Nevada.” 


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