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'Something I was born to do' | James Cook quietly lets his voice be heard

James Cook (4) at Buffalo Bills Media Day, June 12, 2023 in Orchard Park, NY.
James Cook (4) at Buffalo Bills Media Day, June 12, 2023 in Orchard Park, NY.

In press conferences, with reporters clamoring for his attention hoping to catch an attention-grabbing sound bite, James Cook doesn't say more than he needs to say.

When asked about if he felt nervous about having a potentially increased role heading into next season, Cook calmly replied "no, not really."

"I mean it's football, something I was born to do, you know, I just come each day and work."

Earlier this summer, however, the 23-year-old running back made his voice loud and clear when he traveled, on his own time and dime, to upper Manhattan to deliver a commencement speech at Harlem Renaissance High School.

"It was a great experience. I'm just seeing how the kids get a second chance at life. You know, good opportunity because most people don't [get a second chance]."

Cook told the graduates to not take life for granted, and to use their opportunities as advantages.

In an interview with NFL Insider Jordan Schultz, Cook said that part of his message was inspired by the fact that a lot of people never graduate from high school, and that he wanted to celebrate the "big accomplishment in their life" with the students at Harlem Renaissance.

Located in a Manhattan neighborhood that is 44 percent Black and 27 percent Hispanic, Harlem Renaissance has a total minority enrollment of 98 percent with 90 percent of students facing economic disadvantages. Their graduation rate is 14 percent.

While the 87 percent graduation rate measured in the 2019-20 school year is the highest since it was first measured in 2010-11, there is a large drop-off between the graduation rate of white students and that of Black students. In New York, for example, 75 percent of eligible Black students graduated from high school while 90 percent of white students graduated. This disparity is similarly reflected in the national tally.

Cook said that he went to speak at Harlem Renaissance because the school didn't have the budget to hire a commencement speaker. He also said that their graduation ceremony was held in a parking lot in a tent like the one in which he sat answering questions from the media Wednesday afternoon.

His trip to Manhattan wasn't a publicity stunt, and in fact was barely reported on by members of the local or national media.

As the offseason ends, Cook is in position to inherit a starting spot in the backfield this season with the running back room looking quite different from last season. Devin Singletary, who was participated in over 65 percent of Bills snaps last season, signed with the Houston Texans in free agency.

In his second year in the NFL, Cook could become a major part of what was one of the most potent offenses in the country last season.

"James is going to have every opportunity. I thought he really matured in understanding pro football last year," said General Manager Brandon Beane on the first One Bills Live following the start of training camp. "I thought the coaches gained confidence as the season [progressed], so I'm excited to see him."

Quarterback Josh Allen, who is a notable runner in his own right, also used that word, "opportunity."

"He's been in his playbook. I've really impressed with how hard he's worked," Allen said. "He's a very focused individual right now, and it's very fun to see. … He's gonna have some major opportunities for our offense this year."

Allen also mentioned that Cook's brother, Dalvin, who has rushed for over 1,000 yards in each of his previous four seasons in the NFL, is likely a helpful source of advice for James as he enters his sophomore season.

"He just gives me advice, just keeps telling me to keep getting better each and every day, being the best version of me and be myself, really," Cook said on the guidance Dalvin has given him.

Back in 2020, in an interview with OnlineAthens, Dalvin spoke on his high hopes for James' career.

"I've got big expectations for him," Dalvin said. "He knows how hard I am on him, how hard I push him. I think he's just scratching the surface."

The Cook brothers faced off last season in a memorable game between the Vikings and Bills that Buffalo supporters would likely rather forget, with Minnesota winning in overtime.

James said that Dalvin still reminds him that, as of right now, the older Cook brother has the advantage in their sibling rivalry.

The last question James Cook answered in Thursday's press conference was about anything he needed to do to get better as a three-down back.

"Not really. Just keep doing what I'm doing," Cook said.

As his teammates have described, Cook is focused on earning a consistent spot in the backfield, with hopes to "keep getting better each and every day," as he often reminds reporters.

A critical part of what Cook can "keep doing" is continue to bring attention to schools like Harlem Renaissance.

While Cook is focused on becoming the next great running back for the Buffalo Bills, and more specifically on bringing a Super Bowl to Western New York, his simple, underreported trip to Harlem speaks louder than any bold claim he could make in a press conference or spring to the end zone in an NFL game.

Scroll to see the best photos from Day Two of Buffalo Bills Training Camp

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