CLEVELAND - In the previous four years, Jamaine Cook was a productive tailback for the Youngstown State University Penguins football team.
This year he was thinking about returning to YSU as a student.
That plan changed when Cook received a phone call that for now has changed the course of his life. In need of depth at running back because of injuries to Dion Lewis and Montario Hardesty, the Browns signed Cook to supply a fresh set of legs.
The call wasn't a complete surprise. Cook signed a rookie free-agent contract with the Browns shortly after the NFL draft in late April. He participated in a rookie minicamp and remained for the start of offseason training activity (OTA) practices.
Cook was waived in May when the Browns signed running back Miguel Maysonet. At the time, he was told to be ready for another call.
"They basically said, 'Hang tight. It's a numbers game right now. You performed well with your limited opportunities in college, but we signed this guy (Maysonet) and want to try him out,' " Cook said. "Fortunately I'm back again and I have another shot."
Cook, who lives in nearby Middleburg Heights and played at Berea Midpark High School, didn't have far to travel to reach the team's facility. During his time away he did outdoor work for his grandfather, who owns property in the area.
At first glance, it would appear Cook's chances to make the final roster are remote. Then again, there was a reason why the Browns signed him so close to the start of the regular season. In addition, Lewis will likely be placed on season-ending injured reserve with a fractured fibula, and there's no timetable for Hardesty's return from hamstring and thumb injuries.
"It's exciting," Cook said. "I look at it as another opportunity to make my stand and prove I can play with the best of the best and contribute to this team. That's kind of how I feel. Whatever happens, happens. There are no guarantees in this league."
Cook's first opportunity at game action will be Saturday when the Browns play at the Indianapolis Colts. Coach Rob Chudzinski said the starters will play the entire first half and into the early part of the third quarter, but running back Trent Richardson is one of a few starters who will put in less time.
Cook could log a few carries behind Brandon Jackson, Chris Ogbonnaya and Maysonet. Cook is expected to receive action on special teams, which could be telling in his quest to make the roster.
"You can't expect anything out of this league, but I'll be ready to go," Cook said. "They told me to be ready, so I have to be ready to go when they call Jamaine Cook."
Cook grew up within walking distance of the Browns' complex. He recalls attending a practice session during training camp, not knowing that one day he would be wearing an orange helmet and be on the field as a player.
That background should make any action he receives in preseason games extra special.
"Football is football," he said. "It's another game. I played 5 minutes (from here) in my backyard. It's playing football. It's what I've done my whole life."
Cook admits that being told of his release in May was difficult to hear. He'd like to avoid receiving the same news when cuts are made the next two weeks.
"I would definitely say I was kind of heartbroken, but it turned out to be a blessing in disguise because I feel like I'm in a better position than I was before," he said.
Cook is keeping the faith.