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Cook making plays at ESPN

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By Goose Lindsay

Some people seemed destined for a certain career.

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For LaRue Cook, son of former Roane County News managing editor and The Standard editor LaRue “Boots” Cook, journalism is in his blood. The 29-year-old former Roane County High School and University of Tennessee student is now making a name for himself in the profession. He was recently named general editor for ESPN The Magazine, a biweekly magazine published by ESPN in Bristol, Conn.
ESPN The Magazine is the second-biggest sports magazine in the United States, behind Sports Illustrated.
“It picked me,” Cook said of his career in journalism. “I don’t know if I ever said this is what I want to do or not, but it has always been second nature to me.
“I worked on the yearbook staff in high school, but I remember reading the Beacon (UT’s newspaper) and I had the feeling that this is for me. I went to their office after that and I said I want to write.”
From that day, Cook’s career has had it share of ups and downs as he made his way up the ladder.
While at UT, he did some work for The Daily Times in Maryville and Knoxville News Sentinel. He also did a summer internship for Scripps Howard in Washington, D.C., after his junior year.
Shortly after graduating in May 2007, Cook took a six-month internship with Entertainment Weekly in New York City. Afterward, he worked for ESPN The Magazine as a researcher/fact-checker
Moving to the big city is often a huge adjustment for a small-town guy, but Cook said he was so into his work he tended to overlook the skyscrapers, subways and millions of people around him.
“It didn’t really bother me,” he said. “I was focused on work because there are a lot of people in this profession that want to do what I do. I found out that not everyone is your friend, and it takes a lot of hard work to succeed.”
Cook, however, wasn’t totally happy with his work as a researcher.
“The job at ESPN went pretty well, but I really wanted to write,” he said. “So in July ’08, I came back to Knoxville and went to work for the Knoxville Voice. There, I did reporting, editing and shot pictures, but the economy was bad and in January of ’09 the paper shut down.”
It was at that time that Cook had some soul-searching to do. In less than 18 months, he had worked for three organizations and wasn’t sure where his career was going.
“It was a tough time for a young guy to be in the industry. I really didn’t know what I wanted to do,” he said. “I was valet-parking cars in downtown Knoxville at the time, and I was working some for the Sentinel. I realized then that I needed to find a place and stay there.”
ESPN was under a hiring freeze at that point, but Cook’s name was still in the system, and they wanted him to return as a researcher for college basketball. By the end of ’09, he was hired on full time as a reporter/researcher.
He caught another break in June 2011, when ESPN The Magazine’s headquarters moved from New York to Bristol.
“We lost a lot of staff when they made the move, and that’s when I was promoted to associate editor,” he said. “I was second-in-command in college football and college basketball.”
Being from the South, college sports was right down Cook’s alley. He played basketball at Kingston and knows the impact college sports, especially football has below the Mason-Dixon Line.
“In the South, you don’t follow pro teams as much as you do college. You really have a love for your team. I remember how my dad loved Tennessee,” he said. “Sports has a lot of rich stories and it’s so ingrained into our culture. I grew up around sports. It’s second nature to me. You get to where you speak the language.”
A lot of that second nature for Cook, came from his relationship with his dad. Besides his years as a journalist, Boots Cook, who died in 2000, was the voice of Kingston Yellow Jackets football for nearly 50 years. The press box at Dr. Nat Sugarman Memorial Field is named in his honor.
In LaRue’s younger years, he spent many hours after school with his dad at The Standard.
“Dad and I are a lot alike,” he said. “I remember all those days at the office watching how he conducted himself and his ethics in what, who and how to cover an event.
“I remember he used to tell me ‘Life is like a jump shot, once you let it go you can’t pull it back’. You have to line it up then follow through correctly,” he added.
“I can’t say I’ve made all the right choices in life, but from watching him I know how much people looked up to him and how he took pride in everything he did. I learned from him that if you do something, do it right and do it to be successful. I want to do things to make my parents and grandparents proud.”
Cook’s success covering college sports led to his promotion to general editor in April. His position is just one step away from senior editor.
Cook, however, does more than just work for ESPN The Magazine. He helps with ESPN.com and has even made appearances on ESPNU, one of ESPN’s television networks.
“In this industry, you can’t do just one thing,” he said. “We try to cross-brand our product, whether it’s TV, the Internet  or the magazine.”
So what does the future hold for Cook?
This fall, he will be instructing a creative writing class at Fairfield University while pursuing his master’s degree in fine arts. His current plans are to stay with ESPN The Magazine, but he admits he doesn’t know what the future holds, or if that future involves coming home.
“We’ll just see what happens,” he said. “ESPN has done so much for me and my career. It’s definitely a good place for me, but you never know what will happen.
“I’ll always consider Kingston my home.”