On Father’s Day a year ago, Tyler Cooksey was sitting in his bedroom, mulling over his choice of college. After nearly committing to North Carolina after a visit to Chapel Hill, N.C., he was now considering instead Georgia Tech.
You likely know the ending – Cooksey, a linebacker from Greater Atlanta Christian, signed with Tech in February and reported for summer classes this past Tuesday. How Cooksey made the choice is a pretty good story.
“I’m a very rational thinker,” Cooksey said. “I usually beat myself up over decisions like that. I just said to myself, ‘This is the only way I’m going to come down to it. I’m going to do it right now. I’m not going to regret it.’ It was crazy.”
North Carolina had been Cooksey’s leader in his recruitment and at one point was ready to commit.
“I fell in love with Chapel Hill and just the environment there,” he said.
Another thing that North Carolina had going for it was that Cooksey’s father hadn’t played there. Tom Cooksey lettered two years as a nose guard for the Jackets, 1978-1979, and went to training camp with the Falcons before a career in commercial and industrial real estate. Tyler wasn’t interested in following in his footsteps. That said, he credits his father for not trying to sway his opinion.
“He really did not have that big of an influence on me choosing Tech,” Tyler said.
It wasn’t easy for Dad to hold his tongue.
“A part of me wanted him to go there, but I tried my best (to not get involved),” he said. “I don’t think I crammed it down his throat by any means.”
Tyler recalled telling his father at one point that he didn’t want anything to do with Tech. Tom Cooksey remembers a visit Tyler made to Tech early in his recruitment that made little impression on him.
“He said he didn’t like downtown Atlanta, he didn’t like the campus,” he said.
Tyler, though, made another visit that he said he took almost begrudgingly after defensive coordinator Ted Roof had come to watch him in spring practice at the end of his junior year. He drove to campus thinking that he was ready to commit to North Carolina. But it was during that visit that Roof offered a different slant on Cooksey’s legacy – that he wasn’t following in his father’s footsteps, but he was making his own future. He also made it clear to Cooksey how much Tech coaches wanted him there. Further, he introduced Cooksey to a handful of players, including Zach Laskey and Corey Dennis.
“I really felt I was at home with them, kind of like they’re my buddies,” Cooksey said. “I never got that vibe from any other team I visited with.”
At the same time, North Carolina was in the midst of its academic scandal that earlier this month resulted in an NCAA finding of a lack of institutional control. Tyler had questions, Tom Cooksey said, but “they couldn’t give him a straight answer.” Tom Cooksey, whose son had received offers from academic powerhouses such as Northwestern, Boston College, Duke and Wake Forest, urged Tyler to consider the value of the degree from whatever school he would end up choosing.
“The way I looked at it was, each school is a different life you are going to live,” Tyler said. “It’s just different, to where, if you make one choice, it changes everything, and you just have to make the right decision.”
To that end, with its elite business and engineering schools, Tech carried plenty of weight.
Still, on Father’s Day 2014, Tom Cooksey was fully expecting his son to become a Tar Heel. He was telling friends that that’s what he was guessing would happen. But in his bedroom in the family’s Suwanee home, Cooksey let his imagination take over.
“I was like, Wow, how awesome would it be if I committed to Tech on Father’s Day?” Cooksey said recently.
Apparently, awesome enough. Cooksey called Roof and told him he had some good news.
“He said, ‘What’s that, buddy?” Cooksey said. Cooksey told him he was ready to commit.
Cooksey then told his family, but waited to share the news with his father. With the family assembled in the den of their Suwanee home, Tyler gave his father a card that, as Tyler recalled, read, “Happy Father’s Day. I just wanted to let you know I committed to Georgia Tech.”
“I didn’t believe what he was saying when he first told me,” Tom Cooksey said. “I thought he was kidding me.”
In hindsight, Tyler is himself a little incredulous.
“It was crazy,” he said. “I honestly don’t know how I came to making the decision, but I did. It was seriously an in-the-moment decision that I made, and I did not think anything of it.”
Both credit Roof in the decision. Tyler said he was probably the best recruiter he came across in his entire recruiting process.
Said Tom, "At the end of the day, Ted Roof really did a great job recruiting him."
A year later, Cooksey is about to begin summer classes prior to his freshman season. He is glad to be close to home and said he hasn’t regretted his choice.
“It was meant to be,” he said.
On the day before Father’s Day, Tom Cooksey felt similarly.
“He can’t top what he gave me last year,” the elder Cooksey said. “But I’m going to ask him if he’s going to.”