CLEVELAND - There was a benefit to growing up in Middleburg Heights for Jamaine Cook.
The proximity of the Browns' practice facility to his home made it easy for his mother to take him to the team's complex. Cook, a star running back at Youngstown State University the last four seasons, remembers attending a Browns' practice and participating in a youth camp when he was about 5-years-old.
Cook's career has come full circle. He's among the 45 rookies taking part this weekend in an orientation camp, hoping to make the leap from the Football Championship Series (FCS) level to the NFL.
Tribune Chronicle / Dave Dermer
Former YSU?running back Jamaine Cook works out during the first day of Browns’ rookie camp on Friday.
Tribune Chronicle / Dave Dermer
Cook talks with reporters after the first day of rookie camp. He is an undrafted free agent with the Browns.
As an undrafted prospect, Cook faces tall odds. Fortunately, he has an upbeat attitude and the will to show coaches that he belongs.
"They told me I'm going to come in and compete," Cook said. "Nothing is going to be handed to me.
"I want to start on special teams. If I'm better than them (the competition), I'm going to get a spot. All I expect is a fair shot, and that's fair enough to me and I can live with myself at the end of the day."
Cook made an immediate impact for former YSU coach Jon Heacock in 2009. He started the next three seasons for coach Eric Wolford, finishing his career with 4,052 yards on 811 carries. Included in that run were 20 rushing performances of 100 or more yards.
Being in an NFL rookie camp is totally different from college spring practices. The level of competition will take a giant step in July when training camp opens. That's why it's important for Cook to start the process of being noticed this weekend.
"Just to come out here and compete and show the coaches what I have," Cook said. "I had a couple of nice runs (Friday), and the coaches said some nice things to me. That's always motivating.
"I just want to come out here and work and compete. That's the staple of Jamaine Cook; just working and competing. That's what I want to be known as, and that's what I want the coaches to know me as."
Cook has received some advice about being a rookie free agent from a former enemy linebacker L.J. Fort. An undrafted rookie last year, Fort made the jump from Northern Iowa to the Browns. Fort and Cook faced each other in college in Missouri Valley Football Conference action.
"He gave me some little tips," Cook said. "That's a guy I definitely look forward to talking to more about coming out of FCS. We definitely have a relationship there."
Fort's best advice was to do more than just show up on the practice field.
"Just to come in and compete and study the playbook," Cook said.
The normal track to a roster spot for a rookie free agent is through the eight-man practice squad. A few show enough in training camp to earn a position on the 53-man roster.
The greatest rookie free-agent success story for the Browns in recent years was Joshua Cribbs, a star quarterback at Kent State University. Cribbs made the roster as a rookie in 2005 for his special-teams skills. He never developed as planned in his conversion to receiver, but he had a remarkable career as a return specialist, setting the NFL record for kick returns for touchdowns with eight.
Cribbs' story is motivation for Cook.
"It started on special teams for him, and that's what I'm looking at for me," Cook said. "They had me back there on punts and kicks, so it's like back to my freshman year of college."
Cook is a football junky. His career had roots on a corner of the Browns' practice facility many years ago. He wants to keep it going at the same location.
"I just love playing football," he said. "I was very nervous coming out here to practice, but as soon as I stepped on the field all those nerves went away. It was just football."
The Browns are set at running back with starter Trent Richardson, the third overall draft pick last year. Montario Hardesty and Chris Ogbonnaya are back to provide depth.
In addition to the stiff competition, Cook also has to convince coaches that he can survive despite his size (5-9, 210).
"I don't look at all that," he said. "My size has got me this far. It's going to continue to take me further."