West Lafayette football star Carson Cooke reclassified as 2022 rookie
WESTFIELD – Carson Cooke’s dream has always been to play NCAA Division I soccer.
This dream is currently on hold.
The 2021 West Lafayette graduate dresses up this week for his first MLS Next game as a member of the Indiana Fire Academy U19 squad.
“It has been a very difficult year to recruit for any athlete,” said Cooke. “For me, especially since I wasn’t at the highest level of exposure, it was so hard to get looks.”
Rather than settling on a school that Cooke didn’t consider the right one, he bet on his talents and reclassify as a 2022 rookie.
Only now he’s doing it with a program that has a reputation for signing football players into major NCAA programs.
Cooke, like so many other high school athletes in the 2021 class, played the game of waiting.
The NCAA has granted college student-athletes an additional year of eligibility due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Some have chosen to come back for another season. Others don’t. But while those decisions were being made, high school students waited and college coaches were unsure of what their roster would be for the coming school year.
This after recruitment stopped before the last school year.
So, as Cooke began to stand out as an outstanding player for the Indiana Fire youth program and as a record scorer for West Lafayette High School, he was unable to make connections with college coaches.
“With this college eligibility rule, everyone gets an extra year,” Cooke said. “Places are limited and if you really like the game and want to play, you have to look for other places.
“Where there are usually maybe eight or nine Division I places for incoming freshmen, there are now two or three. Those two or three places go to the best in the business. To the guys who have been. recruited since they were (younger). “
After 106 goals for West Lafayette, including 83 in his last two seasons, and 51 career assists for one of Indiana’s top Class 2A football teams, Cooke’s choices were limited.
When he made the Indiana Fire Academy’s 18-player roster, it gave Cooke another option.
Indiana Fire Academy is affiliated with MLS Next, youth soccer leagues in the United States and Canada that are managed and organized by Major League Soccer.
Cooke signed up for online courses to kickstart his college education while fully focusing on training for the Academy.
That affiliation alone is enough to increase Cooke’s stock in the eyes of college recruiters, but what he accomplished in his final season with the Indy Fire Juniors youth football team this summer.
As the team’s leader in goals and one of the best in assists, Cooke helped the Indiana Fire Juniors 03 Red to finish third at the United States National Youth Soccer Championships, a tournament that has started with over 10,000 teams.
The Indiana Fire Juniors Red was the first in the program to win a State Cup championship and the first Indiana State program to win a regional championship.
Going through this glove, Cooke noticed that the number of coaches watching was multiplying.
Now Cooke will play at a higher level with hopes of having a collegiate decision for next fall in place by the end of 2021.
“For me, I know how good I am and where I want to be. I have my goals,” Cooke said. “I know to accomplish them I need another year to develop myself, to get bigger, faster and stronger, to play in some of the best games I can physically play in the MLS Next league. J ‘hope he can become independent and become a little more of a goalscorer.
“I think this gap year is going to open doors that weren’t open at all during COVID due to the NCAA standoff.”
Sam King covers sports for the Journal & Courier. Email him at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter and Instagram @samueltking.