It was actually Yearby, now a Miami running back, who committed to the Seminoles first in the spring of 2012. Florida State was Cook’s third school.
Arguably the ACC’s two best running backs -- they are Nos. 1 and 2 in yards per carry among conference backs with at least 50 carries -- both Cook and Yearby followed a sinuous trail to their respective schools, which now has them poised to square off Saturday when Miami visits No. 12 Florida State.
Between the two, they committed five times to four different schools and signed financial-aid papers with all of Florida’s Big 3. Both were ESPN 300 recruits.
“What people don’t understand -- and I’m not blaming it on social media -- it used to be hard for guys to switch. You never could get a hold of them,” Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher said. “I remember calling guys at their house 20 times in a day just to get them once. There wasn't a cell phone. So when they left the house, they weren't thinking about recruiting. They were [doing] whatever normal teenagers do.
“Now they got a cell phone, a Twitter, a text, a Facebook. The ability to reach kids has a lot to do with our communication world, has a lot to do with why guys change. As a coach, that's why I keep [advocating for an] early signing period.”
An early signing period might have left Florida State without Yearby or Cook in the 2014 class. As a high school sophomore, Yearby committed to Florida State, who at that time had James Coley as its offensive coordinator. Coley bolted Tallahassee for his native Miami in January 2013, however, and Yearby followed a month later.
When asked this week why he committed to Florida State and then Miami, Yearby succinctly told The Palm Beach Post, “Coach Coley.”
“Just a good player,” Fisher said when asked about Yearby. “Quick, strong, sticks his foot in the ground, good vision, good burst. He's got all the qualities a good back has. He's a heck of a player.”
Less than two months after Yearby switched allegiances, Cook would do the same. The ACC’s top rusher with 570 yards originally committed to Florida State’s Atlantic Division rival Clemson in June 2012. On Apr. 8, 2013, he flipped to Florida, which would be the first of two decommitments.
Four months after he committed to Florida, Yearby asked Cook on a video posted by South Florida Sports Network where he was thinking of playing his college football. At that point, he stuck with the Gators.
“It’s going to be hard,” Cook said in the video when asked how it would be splitting from Yearby. In a playoff game later that year in 2013, Cook would wear Yearby’s jersey after his friend suffered a leg injury and couldn’t play.
If Cook ended up in Gainesville, he and Yearby never would have played against each other. However, there was still one more twist in Cook’s recruitment.
There were months of speculation Cook was going to decommit from Florida as the Gators were going through a dismal 2013 season. A new interpretation of a rule from the NCAA had allowed players to sign nonbinding financial-aid agreements with multiple schools if they planned to enroll early, which Cook did. So as Cook’s recruitment neared a final decision, he signed financial-aid agreements with Florida, Florida State and Miami.
Hours before New Year’s Day 2014, Cook flipped to the Seminoles. Florida State once again had a piece of Miami Central’s talented backfield (which at one point also included Devonta Freeman, who led the Seminoles’ 2013 team in rushing).
Yearby wouldn’t sign with Miami until February 2014, but by then “everyone knew Joe was a solid commit,” said quarterback Brad Kaaya, who joined Yearby in that class.
Cook’s late switch put the two on opposing sidelines when undefeated Florida State traveled to Miami late in the 2014 season. Cook rushed only seven times but tallied 92 yards and the game-winning score with 3:05 left.
Cook is rehabbing a left hamstring injury and hasn’t practiced this week, but Fisher said Cook still could play. Miami coach Al Golden said he is preparing the Canes as if Cook will start, and Golden has seen an even better Cook than he did a season ago.
“Biggest thing that stands out is leg strength and just a stronger version of last year,” he said. “Still has the speed, but he's running through more tackles.”
Each took an indirect route to Florida State and Miami, but now the two could define the 2015 installment of this rivalry.