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Miami Central captures third state title

But says goodbye to team’s star backs

Akilah Laster | 12/19/2013, 9 a.m.
Coach Roland Smith with Joseph Yearby in post game hand shake. Photo by Akilah Laster

Saturday afternoon marked the end of an era — Central’s Yearby-Cook era. And true to form they went out winners with a 52-7 defeat of their 2011 rival Armwood at the Citrus Bowl. In an eerily accurate display, Cook sported metallic gold Nike kicks in his final high school football game.

His premonitory fashionable footwear reflected the gold medal he and his teammates donned after capturing Central’s third state championship.

“I had that concept in my head before the game and I told coach I’m wearing these because we’re going to get it,” Cook said. “I’m like the house of flavor.”

It was as bittersweet a victory as any 52-7 over Armwood (13-1) win could be, somewhat overcast by Cook’s missing counterpart Joseph Yearby and the culmination of the duo’s era.

Yearby wore a less-stylish plastered-boot due to an ankle injury he sustained late in the playoffs; the injury unfortunately forced Yearby to be a sideline spectator in the Rockets’ fourth consecutive championship appearance.

“It’s the same accomplishment as if I was playing and I feel very good about it,” said Yearby, who was the first in line to shake the hands of the Armwood players after the game.

To make sure his spirit was still felt, Cook ran to Yearby on the sideline after every touchdown — four times in total. The dynamics between the two throughout their high school career has been awe-striking.

“I told him I loved him after every score,” said Cook, who also wore Yearby’s number in the state semifinal game. “It means a lot for him to get up and walk across the field.”

Largely considered two of the best running backs in the country, their sure-footedness has been the backbone of Central’s success.

“We were very excited to have them,” said Central Coach Roland Smith. “We will continue to work on the foundation they left behind.”

Cook was the top scorer in the County this season with 210 points on 34 touchdowns, but was also the top rusher finishing with 1940 yards. Yearby, who missed two games, was second in rushing with 1700 yards on the season and also finished in the top 10 for scoring in Dade. The tandem earned 87 percent of the team’s ground yards and nearly 59 percent of Central’s total offensive yards.

“It’s unheard of,” Smith said. “It’s going to be hard to replace them but we must move forward.”

Since the Cook-Yearby era, the Rockets have gone 28-4 (disregarding the forced forfeited games of 2011). Cook, who played his freshman year for the Scott Lake optimist program, finished his tenure with 66 touchdowns. Yearby, who played all four years at Central, saw the biggest improvement his sophomore where he scored 25 touchdowns after only scoring five his freshman year. Yearby also rushed for more than 2,000 yards during his second season with the Rockets.

“Competing against him in practice brought the man out of me,” Cook said of Yearby.

And though they have motivated each other since their days of optimist play, the duo will soon potentially separate as they are committed to rival colleges — Cook to University of Florida and Yearby to University of Miami. But late in the season, Cook’s verbal commitment began to wane in favor of keeping the tandem together in the collegiate arena. That suits Yearby just fine.

“I’m trying to take him with me,” Yearby said. “It gives us a chance to do what we did at Central.”

But ultimately the choice is Cook’s. His affinity for having his “brother” alongside him has been a major factor in his success.

“You have to be confident with your decision,” Cook said.

While the decision is looming, Cook and Yearby are more immediately focused on enjoying their last moments with their teammates. And just as Cook’s attire predicted the day was golden.