During the past several years, H.D. Woodson High School has distinguished itself as one of the top track-and-field powers on the East Coast, and several athletes have received acclaim for their accomplishments at the Northeast school. The more well-known include All-American sprinters Jerome Watts, William Contee and Anthony Fields, who holds the D.C. public-school records for the 100- and 200-yard dashes.
The latest and possibly the best of this group is Darwin Cook, a 5-foot-8 senior sprinter who recently was selected as a preseason All-American by the National High School Coaches Association of America.
Cook first demonstrated his abilities during his sophomore year, when he captured the Interhigh East 70-, 100- and 200-yard dashes, a rare feat for a 10th grader. As a junior last season, he bettered his record, taking the D.C. public-school championship in the 100- and 200-yard dashes. His time of 9.4 in the 100 was one-tenth of a second off the mark of 9.3 set by Fields in 1977, and was fourth best in the nation.
What is remarkable about Cook's near-record performance is that it took place when he was feeling less than 100 percent, having just come off a serious thigh injury.
Injuries have been Cook's Achilles' heel during his brief career. In the past two years, he has torn a front thigh muscle, hyperextended a toe -- which required surgery -- and suffered several muscle pulls.
"Sure, I think about the problem I've had with injuries," Cook says. "But I've learned to deal with them. As a matter of fact, they have made me more aware of the importance of proper training and taking care of the body."
Woodson coach Stan Mullins is the man responsible for the success of the boys' track-and-field program the past nine years, and is known for his development of sprinters. He describes the style of his latest star as being "very fluid and powerful" for a runner his size.
"His power is somewhat deceiving, because he is so very smooth," Mullins says. "He has very few flaws in his technique. He possesses an asset that you can't coach, and that's natural ability."
Anyone who follows track and field in the area and has seen Cook run will attest to Mullins' assessment. Cook's smooth style makes it seem as if he is breezing past opponents.
When Cook is not burning up indoor and outdoor tracks, he is burning up football fields as a running back on the Woodson team. His presence on the field puts opposing teams in the position of having to defend against his speed.
Because of his athletic abilities -- and his 3.2 grade-point average -- Cook has been heavily recruited by several colleges, including the University of Southern California, UCLA, Arizona State, Cornell and the University of Maryland.
"Whether a school has a good civil engineering program or not will be the main factor in my decision about which to attend," says Cook, who says he is looking particularly closely at Virginia Tech and the University of Florida. "I'm still not sure whether I'll accept a scholarship for football or track. Several schools have shown interest in me as a wide receiver. For now, I'll play it by ear and weigh all my options."
Cook, who lives with his parents and his 10-year-old brother, Sean, who isn't interested in organized sports, says he looks upon athletics as a way to get a good education and is not interested in being a professional athlete. He says he thinks civil engineering is an excellent field with plenty of job opportunities, and he is taking courses in physics and calculus to prepare for his college studies.
Cook may be interested in sports chiefly as a means to an end, but he already has given track-and-field fans an indication of the kind of performance he is capable of giving. In the recent Interhigh indoor championship, he was clocked at 6.8 in the semifinals of the 70-yard dash, which shattered the old national mark of 7.0 set in 1970.
What made this even more impressive was that he had practiced for only a week and had recently finished the football season. (Training for football and track are slightly different, and usually it takes awhile for the body to adjust.)
"I was really surprised," Cook says. "Actually, a 7.2 would have been acceptable that early in the year. I still can't explain it."
In East Coast meets this year, Cook often will be the man to beat. He downplays that, but admits that he has set some personal goals. "First, I want to avoid injury. I've been working on ways to refine my methods of training. If I can do that, I can get my times down. Before I leave (Woodson), I want to leave mymark in track and field."
Cook's coach agrees. "One thing is for sure, he has a great future," Mullins says.