IOWA CITY — Unbeknownst to the elementary school teachers assigned to playground duty, they had an up close look at the beginnings of a potent passing pair.
Among kiddos running, racing and maybe even rough-housing, Ashton Cook started tossing bombs for Alec Wick to haul in against classmates eight years ago. Their favorite play was simply the deep ball.
“I remember throwing to him at third-grade recess every day,” Cook said. “We always made sure we were on the same team. I’d chuck the ball down to him in the end zone. It was fun.”
They have evolved into one of the top passing combinations in Class 1A, helping lead Iowa City Regina to the state football quarterfinals Friday night at third-ranked West Branch’s historic Little Rose Bowl. The contest is the sixth playoff meeting between the Bears (10-0) and Regals (8-2).
Cook ranks third in 1A with 2,149 passing yards and his 23 touchdowns are fifth. Wick is second in the class with 75 receptions and 1,120 yards. He is tied atop 1A with 14 scores.
“They’ve been playing so much stuff together for so many years,” Regina Coach Marv Cook said. “I’ve coached them from youth baseball and youth football. It’s been fun watching them progress and then watching the evolution of the other guys around them.”
Wick said much of the team has been together since kindergarten and they have had good vibes since an early age. The camaraderie between passer-receiver and the rest of the team has helped them grow.
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“It helps with our team chemistry,” Wick said. “It helps with our timing. It helps everything and it helps our confidence as a team.”
The junior duo are friends away from the field, even though much of that relationship revolves around football. If they aren’t breaking down film or playing catch, they are likely going over fantasy football, watching college football on Saturdays or discussing sports in general.
They share a love for the outdoors. Wick leans toward hunting over fishing, while the younger Cook prefers the latter.
“Alec lives out on the country,” Marv Cook said. “They were out there in the summer, playing games and having fun out there.”
Wick produced strong numbers last season, tallying 746 yards on 59 catches with just two TDs. He focused on improving his timing and route running. Marv Cook said coaches trust Wick to give him freedom to read defenses and make adjustments. He is a key weapon for Ashton Cook, accounting for more than half of his passing yardage.
“Alec is a freak athlete,” Ashton Cook said. “He’s really smart in the passing game, so that helps when I look to him.”
Cook suffered through injuries last season, as Regina’s 14-year playoff streak came to an end. He has almost doubled his yardage total and has nearly tripled his TD total. He wanted to be a stronger leader and is doing what the coaches and team need.
Cook has completed 56 percent of his passes and has hit Josh Dutchik and Levi Quinlan for a combined 61 receptions for almost 749 yards.
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“A sign of a great teammate and a great player is they are able to make guys around him better,” Marv Cook said. “I think that is what Alec’s able to do with his skill set. I think Ashton does a good job as well getting others involved in our offense. It’s been fun to watch them both progress over the years.
“This is still Ashton’s first year. He only played four or five games last year, so he’s getting better every time out and learning more. He’s getting more comfortable with everybody.”
Regina won its 50th playoff game last week, topping No. 10 Mediapolis 23-19. The Regals are 5-0 against the Bears in the playoffs, including three quarterfinal victories. Regina won the last meeting, 49-15, in 2016.
Marv Cook played at West Branch for Coach Butch Pedersen before playing for the University of Iowa and becoming an All-Pro NFL tight end. He noted West Branch’s tradition with numerous district titles and deep playoff runs.
“To have that consistency year after year is truly amazing,” Marv Cook said. “It is why it is one of the best programs in the state.
“Obviously, it’s going to be a great challenge for our guys. We’re going to have to play extremely well in all three phases. If we do, I think we’ll have a chance, but it’s going to be a tough, tough night for us. We’ll line up and get after it. We’ll see.”
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