Cook stays grounded amid AOY pressure

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Andy Crawford

As the Bassmaster Elite Series heads into the home stretch and the Toyota Bassmaster Angler of Year hoopla continues to mount, Drew Cook is keeping his season in perspective.

“I set goals at the beginning of the season, but my primary focus was to stay grounded,” he said prior to the start of the Berkley Bassmaster Elite at the St. Lawrence River presented by Black Velvet.

And while he’s well aware of his 11-point AOY lead going into this week’s tournament, he refuses to let it become a distraction.

“To be honest, winning Rookie of the Year was higher on my goal list,” he said. “This is a very talented rookie class filled with guys who have won at all levels. I’ve fished against most of them in college, and they are good and have won at every level there is. It’s a very stout class of rookies.”

Furthermore, Cook says you only get one shot at the Rookie of Year title, “and I still have at least the next five or 10 years to win AOY.”

That’s not to say the young Florida pro is diminishing the importance or value of winning AOY.

“It would boost my career, help me with sponsors and change my life,” he insisted. “But I can’t get ahead of myself; I have other goals to meet before I can worry about that.”

His first priority was to make the Classic, and barring a disastrous finish of the season, that box likely has been checked.

Winning Rookie of the year was his second goal, followed by making at least two top 10s (checked), winning an event (unchecked) and making every Elite second day cut.

The latter goal won’t be achieved since he missed the second day cut at Winyah Bay where he was 39th. Even so, he has made money in every event (checked) and has logged finishes of 18th, 12th, fourth, sixth and 25th.

Of course, winning AOY is on his list, but he knows if he remains focused on the smaller steps, the rest will take care of itself.

“It’s really hard to do well in the standings and be consistent, but I think that’s what you should do,” he said. “Any goal you set should be achievable, but not one that you can reach easily.”

Cook acknowledges the challenge facing him over the next couple weeks as the tour heads into smallmouth bass waters. He has very little experience with northern smallmouth and has never been to the St. Lawrence River.

Does that bother him?

“Not at all,” he said emphatically. “I think pre-knowledge of a place can hurt you. When you fish someplace new, you tend to fish ‘the moment’ and a lot more pure than you do when you have prior knowledge and preconceived notions.”

Nor will leading AOY affect how he will fish this week. Cook acknowledges that Scott Canterbury (second place in AOY) has been fishing well and that Cory Johnson, only 12 points behind, has vast experience on the St. Lawrence.

“Honestly, I’m not feeling any pressure about the AOY going into this tournament,” he said. “After all, it’s still just bass fishing. If you get stressed out about something, it doesn’t do anything but hurt you. I’ve been fishing well and making good decisions, and I don’t plan to stop doing that.”

After St. Lawrence, the tour heads to Cayuga Lake in New York where Cook feels good about his grass fishing skills and then on to Ft. Gibson in Oklahoma.

“I think Gibson will be a grind, and I love tough tournaments like that,” he said. “Also, Gibson has 5- and 6-pounders, so you can make up a lot of ground with a big bite there. And then we go to St. Clair, and that’s where the championship ultimately will be decided.”

Remarkably, Cook has maintained an even-keel demeanor through it all and insists that – if he does win the AOY title – it won’t change him a bit.

“I’ll still be that same dude that nobody knew when I walked into that Bassmaster Elite meeting in Birmingham back in January,” he said.