Chiefs WR Appreciates Life, Football More after Battle with Cancer

Former Gardner-Webb receiver Kenny Cook overcame Hodgkin Lymphoma

The only thing more impressive than the plays receiver Kenny Cook made at the Kansas City Chiefs' rookie minicamp over the past three days was the path he took to be able to make them.

Cook, who was signed as a priority free agent by the Chiefs following the conclusion of the draft, played three years at Gardner-Webb by way of Garden City Community College (Kan.).

Despite playing just three years at Gardner-Webb, Cook still managed to rank third in school history with 188 career receptions.

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As a senior in 2014, Cook finished with 64 receptions for 758 yards and five touchdowns.

But before he was a three-time All-Big South player and Gardner Webb's first ever player to be named to the Walter Payton Preseason Award Watch list, Cook was a standout two-sport athlete for Clinton High School in South Carolina.

As a senior in 2009, Cook caught 29 passes for 597 yards and two touchdowns from an offense centered around the wishbone. He also intercepted eight passes at cornerback, which led to him being named to the All-State team by the S.C. High School Sports Report.

That same year, the Red Devils finished with a 12-3 record and won the Class 3A State Football Championship.

If that wasn't impressive enough in itself, it's what happened three years prior that puts this championship into greater perspective.

"I woke up one morning and my neck was swollen," Cook explained of a summer morning in 2007, right before his sophomore season. "After that, I went to the doctor and was diagnosed with Hodgkin lymphoma."

Just like that—everything had changed.

Cook missed that fall of football and the basketball season that winter.

"It took me a while—I had to go through chemo and radiation, so once I got through my chemo, it was still there, so they just burned the rest off with radiation," he explained. "It was a hard road back because I had all the medication and medicine in my body. I took a year off, so it's hard to take a year off and come back and be the same."

While most kids are learning how to drive and running around with their friends—being normal teenagers, Cook was battling a disease that few of his peers could possibly comprehend.

Draft picks, UFA and tryout players are on the field for the first day of rookie mini camp.

During that time, Cook said he leaned on his family and his faith to get him through the toughest days. But he kept working and never lost sight of getting back on the field and the hardwood.

"I just honed in on my craft and I worked harder and harder every day and I got myself back to where I was—even better than who I was before I was sick."

Cook said the time he spent working his way back and fighting this horrible disease allowed him to develop an appreciation for things he might not have seen the same way before.

"It got me to appreciate life more," he explained. "I woke up one day and they told me no more football and no more basketball. It pretty much hit me. It made me appreciate life more and my family.

"Thank God for everything. I just take all my problems to God because I know he's seen me through cancer, he'll pull me through anything, so that's how I look at things."

Cook continued.

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"My entire family—they were there with me through everything. My mom, I cannot thank her enough because she never left my side. I have a great support system that was with me the entire ride."

Cook finds himself with a Chiefs organization that shares many of those same values of family, which has never been more evident than the support they've shown for safety Eric Berry, who is currently dealing with the same disease Cook fought and beat eight years ago.  

"He's doing a great job," Chiefs coach Andy Reid said of Cook's minicamp performance. "You know that he had the same thing Eric Berry is fighting through now, so he was able to come back. He sat out a year of football and he was able to come back."

Cook used his 81-inch wingspan to make plays all over the field at rookie minicamp for the Chiefs over the past three days, which caught the eye of Reid.

"He sure is a big target with a big catch radius and made some plays for us," Reid said. "It's a tribute to the kid for working so hard. His docs had helped him out and here he is."

For Cook, who was initially disappointed that he wasn't drafted, the opportunity with the Chiefs is something that overwhelmed his mother, Kimberly, when she found out her son and everything he went through, would have an opportunity in the NFL.

"She just cried," Cook said of his mother, who raised him and his brother as a single mom. "Even though I didn't get drafted, I still have an opportunity and she knows this is my lifelong dream, so she just cried because she knows the road that I have taken to get here."

Cook explained that the opportunity to work with this coaching staff drew him to Kansas City when he was deciding where he wanted to sign after the draft.

Outside on the field for the second day of Rookie Mini Camp

"I like the coaching staff, I like the offense and I grew up watching Andy Reid," he said. "He coached Terrell Owens, Jeremy Maclin and Jason Avant and all those guys. I like the routes and the way that they play. They play hard, so I just want to play for him."

After three days of rookie minicamp practices, Cook is still trying to prove himself among his peers.

"I've dreamed of this opportunity," Cook said. "Since I was young, I wanted this opportunity just to come to the next level and just compete and show I belong.

"I'm trying to prove that even though I came from a lower level—that I can play with these guys. Most of the guys here played in the SEC and the ACC. I just want to prove that I can play."

Cook said that his physical abilities at 6-foot-4, 218 pounds, gave him a mismatch advantage over smaller defenders in college.

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"I can do a lot of things with my size," Cook said. "I played a lower level, so a lot of teams tried to double team me and bracket me, so my coaches just moved me around. I can go up and get the ball. I can get it and go in the slot and go across the middle. I just love the game of football."

Cook said that playing at a lower level and getting all of that attention actually made him a more cerebral player.

"I actually had to study a lot more because I had to work my way around double teams and brackets," he explained. "So I had to get in my playbook and learn all the positions, like I'm trying to do now here.

"At the start of the game, if I'm one-on-one, then the second half, they double team. My coach moved me to a different spot, so I had to know all the positions."

This is something he believes will help him throughout this process.

"[Chiefs receivers coach David Culley] told us if you want to stick around, you should learn every spot, so I've just been learning every spot on the field."

As a priority free agent under contract, Cook will continue to work his way through Chiefs offseason workouts, learning from veterans he's admired from afar in Jeremy Maclin and Jason Avant.

Cook finds himself fighting for a roster spot among a positional group loaded with young talent in Kansas City.

Now while Cook may have grown up in South Carolina and his prior experience anywhere near Kansas City was the one season spent at Garden City Community College, he said that was close enough to hear plenty about what makes Chiefs Kingdom and Arrowhead Stadium special.

"I just know they have great fans and their stadium gets loud and rocking."

He's right.

They also love connecting with players—which should be an easy thing with Cook.

Players were outside on the field for day three of the Rookie Mini Camp.

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