UNI Panthers

UNI freshman kicker Matthew Cook set aside nerves for dream debut

Cedar Falls native was 4-for-4 in season-opener at Iowa State

Aug 31, 2019; Ames, IA, USA; Northern Iowa Panthers place kicker Matthew Cook (97) kicks a field goal in overtime against the Iowa State Cyclones at Jack Trice Stadium. The Cyclones won 29-26 in three overtimes. Mandatory Credit: Reese Strickland-USA TODAY Sports
Aug 31, 2019; Ames, IA, USA; Northern Iowa Panthers place kicker Matthew Cook (97) kicks a field goal in overtime against the Iowa State Cyclones at Jack Trice Stadium. The Cyclones won 29-26 in three overtimes. Mandatory Credit: Reese Strickland-USA TODAY Sports

CEDAR FALLS — Northern Iowa true freshman kicker Matthew Cook became a household name among Panthers fans after his first career game last Saturday.

With presumed starter Sam Drysdale still recovering from a hip injury, Cook and sophomore Nate Murphy battled throughout fall camp for the gig.

“The first week of (camp), I was definitely nervous,” Cook said. “All my kicks were never straight down the middle. I was always taking a lot longer in our operation time, but as we started getting going and in the last week we started locking in, started hitting some good balls.”

UNI head coach Mark Farley unveiled Cook as the starter on his weekly radio show last Thursday and told him the news the next day after practice.

Cook’s first reaction?

Stay after practice and get more kicks in.

Once he got back to his dorm, he called his mom and relayed the news.

“She was very happy, but I think she dropped the phone the first time,” Cook said. “So it took herself awhile to calm herself down and actually talk to me.”

Cook’s first college field goal came from 50 yards at a sold-out Jack Trice Stadium in Ames against then-No. 21 Iowa State. UNI, trailing 3-0 at halftime, moved into Cyclones territory on its first drive of the second half but faced a fourth-and-13 at the 32-yard line.

“When we crossed the 50-yard line, everybody was yelling at me to start getting warmed up because we were starting to get into range,” Cook said. “Then Farley called me out there for the field goal and running out there was like slow motion, it was pretty scary. Once I got out there and lined up I took a deep breath, shut everything out and kicked the ball.”

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The Cedar Falls native went on to make all three of his remaining kicks, resulting in MVFC and FCS STATS special teams player of the week honors, a first for a UNI freshman kicker.

“I think I had every member of my family (at Iowa State),” Cook said. “They rushed me as I was walking to the bus with hugs and pictures. They were really happy for me.”

Headed into his second career game, Cook says he’s focused on making more consistent contact on the ball while continually dealing with a device Farley employs that forces kickers to get the appropriate height on their kicks.

“We’ve got a contraption called the ‘Lincoln Logs,’ that’s what Farley likes to call them,” Cook said. “Every single time we kick he makes sure we’re using the ‘Lincoln Logs.’”

Cook and the Panthers (0-1) host Southern Utah (0-1) on Saturday at 4 p.m. at the UNI-Dome.

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