December 28, 2017 10:31:14 AM
STARKVILLE -- The sight of Logan Cooke as a Mississippi State football player was more than enough for his father, Len.
It didn't matter to Len if Logan played.
Len Cooke told Megan Mullen as much on Aug. 30, 2014. Mullen, the wife of then-MSU football coach Dan Mullen, was talking with parents of players after MSU's season opener against Southern Mississippi. It was Logan Cooke's first time entering the stadium as part of the Dawg Walk and first time warming up on the field in uniform, even though he didn't play.
Len Cooke was still overwhelmed. He approached Megan Mullen to thank her and her husband for giving Logan a spot on the team. Megan encouraged Len to text Dan that message, which he did.
More than three years later, Logan's journey and that of his family will come to an end at 11 a.m. Saturday (ESPN) when No. 24 MSU takes on Louisville (8-4) in the TaxSlayer Bowl at EverBank Field.
"It's hard to believe it's over," Len Cooke said. "It's been a family event. We have nine family members that have season tickets at the other end, and it's all been something for us to enjoy together."
Len and his wife, Tracey, and Logan's sister, Jordan, have soaked up every moment. Jackie Cooke, Len's father, has Alzheimer's and Parkinson's, but Len says Jackie has only missed some road games and two home games in Logan's MSU career.
Logan Cooke has punted 146 times and kicked off 151 times. Fifty-nine of those punts have been downed inside the 20, while 72 kickoffs have gone for touchbacks. Looking back, it's hard to imagine Logan didn't have any time to prepare for his first action as a Bulldog.
On Oct. 4, 2014, Cooke was on the field for warmups and talking about hunting prior to unbeaten MSU's game against No. 6 Texas A&M. Cooke had completed his pre-game routine as his teammates were coming out of the tunnel to warm up. Cooke was talking with linebacker Josiah Phillips when kickoff man and punter Devon Bell told him to get his mind right.
"I thought he was telling me that just to get my mind off hunting," Logan Cooke said.
Still, he had a suspicion something was up. In the locker room, Bell said he felt something pop in warmup and his status for the game was uncertain. Bell's final warmup reps would determine who would play.
Meanwhile, Len and Tracey had fallen into their game-day routines. They wanted to be in their seats before Logan took the field and to be there until he walked off it.
Len and Tracey quickly saw something was off after the Bulldogs emerged from the tunnel before the game. Len saw Bell attempt a kickoff that resulted in a 20-yard line drive. He then looked for Logan, who usually helped warm up the long snapper. By the time Len found Logan, Dan Mullen was speaking to Logan before he sent him on the field for the opening kickoff.
Logan's parents were getting ready to film the moment and trying to reach Jordan, Logan's sister, who was working a recruiting gate. Even though Logan's first kickoff threw his family into chaos, it might have been the best thing for him.
"I wouldn't say I would have over-thought it. I'd just say sometimes it takes things to come in the spur of the moment for you to do it and not think about it," Logan Cooke said. "The next week I had a whole week to get ready for Auburn, so I had the whole week to think about it. I got to see both sides of it.
"It was definitely a good thing for me to get broken into it."
Since then, Cooke has developed from a player who was just excited to be dressing out into one of the nation's top punters. He likely will get looks from NFL scouts after the bowl game when he begins preparations for the NFL draft.
Along the way, Cooke tried out for the MSU baseball team, attempting a field goal, and came back from an injury.
Logan and Len had a bit of a Thursday tradition he lost his redshirt status against Texas A&M. Before MSU's first game against Southern Mississippi -- in which there was no guarantee Logan would dress out -- he alerted his parents he would text his father a question: Have you ever seen your son in an Southeastern Conference football game?
Those texts continued with each milestone, such as the "See you in Baton Rouge" to let the family know he would travel to LSU the week before the game against Texas A&M. Those texts don't come anymore, but the journey has left its mark on the Cooke family.
"I'd say it's been everything I thought it'd be and more," Len Cooke said.
Follow Dispatch sports writer Brett Hudson on Twitter @Brett_Hudson