East Lansing — Connor Cook has said it before, and he knows he'll have to say it again.
And while he has done most everything already, he says he's determined to do more.
That's why Michigan State's junior quarterback seems so comfortable in telling everyone he plans to stick around for another year, though he certainly doesn't have to and some would argue he shouldn't.
Cook said it back in October, but he was speaking more generally than definitively then, talking about not wanting to leave the fun of college behind until he'd used up his collegiate eligibility.
Tuesday, it sounded a bit more like a plan than a platitude, though there's no way to be sure of anything at this point.
"Yeah, I've sat down, talked to my family — the main goal is obviously to come back," Cook reiterated Tuesday as Michigan State returned to the practice field in preparation for their top-10 clash with Baylor in the Cotton Bowl on Jan. 1. "So I've talked amongst them, talked amongst my friends, (talked) with the coaches.
"I have unfinished business that I want to do, that I want to accomplish next year. And the only way that I can do that is if I return.'"
And when I asked if there was anything that might change his mind about that, he shrugged slightly and said, "No."
Up in arms
Now, then, Cook wouldn't be the first college athlete to do an about-face and turn pro after saying he'd stay put. And like fellow MSU juniors Trae Waynes and Shilique Calhoun, he'll surely be pressed by others telling him to go in the coming weeks. Especially if his next New Year's Day performance is anything like his first, when Cook earned MVP honors as the Spartans capped a magical season with a Rose Bowl win over Stanford.
This projects as a weak draft year for quarterbacks, with few coveted prospects beyond Marcus Mariota, the Heisman Trophy winner from Oregon.
The next-best available arm is probably Florida State's Jameis Winston, an underclassmen whose red flags are well-documented and sure to scare off some NFL suitors. Cook and another junior, UCLA's Brett Hundley, figure to be the highest-rated options beyond that, though teams won't begin setting draft boards for another few months, at least.
"When you look at Connor Cook, he could be the third or fourth-best quarterback in this draft, but he needs another year," ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. said last week. "In another year, you're looking at maybe a top-15 pick. Whereas this year, you're looking at probably more of a second round. Connor Cook, by going back to Michigan State, would enhance his draft rating."
Dave Warner, Michigan State's offensive coordinator, wasn't about to weigh in on that subject Tuesday.
"I think that's a decision for the experts to make — the NFL experts," he said. "I'm just a college football coach. They can make that decision. But I think he's a very good quarterback, and I think he's got some improvement that he can make in front of him."
Warner praised Cook's growth both as a leader and a game manager, reining in some of his reckless decision-making while still managing — with plenty of help from No. 1 receiver Tony Lippett — to lead the nation in yards per completion (15.43) this season.
"Where he has to go from here, I think he's got a big upside," Warner added.
Steps in the right direction
Still, like most big-armed, young quarterbacks, his footwork needs some serious fine-tuning. The 6-foot-4, 220-pound Cook took that a step further Tuesday, saying he also wants to focus on his scrambling ability before next season, wherever that is. ("Not trying to be a dual-threat quarterback, by any means," he said. "Just trying to be more of a threat with my feet.") Same goes for the short passing game, and utilizing the running backs more as a receivers out of the backfield.
"You look at guys in the NFL, guys that make a living off of throwing to the backs, and that's why their completion percentage is so high," said Cook, who completed 58.2 percent of his attempts this season. "I feel like I get too locked in to trying to throw it to my wideouts."
As for the future, he insists he's locked in only one thing, though. Ask him about next year's outlook for Michigan State and he'll flip the calendar no further than Jan. 1.
"We're not really looking forward to next year yet," Cook said. "Our main goal is to be Cotton Bowl champs and walk out of that stadium with a win. After we do that, then there can be talk about that."
There will be, Connor Cook knows. But for now, he's determined to stay in the present.