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Central’s Skylar Cook celebrates Division I signing with family, friends who left lasting impact on his journey

Spartan football star shows gratitude towards loved ones, once again signing LOI to New Mexico

EL CENTRO, Calif., (KYMA, KECY) - As Skylar Cook grew from a child to a young man, he did not want to only be remembered for his football abilities - but rather as a standout person.

Now closing in on his final months of high school, it's pretty clear that he did just that.

While dusk turned to dark Thursday night in El Centro, foot after foot walked through the doors of the Fraternal Order of Eagles with everyone there to see one person: Skylar Cook.

Fittingly, on a night that was set up to be all about him, he managed to make it about everyone else. Cook grasped the night as a chance to thank everyone that has made an impact on his life in some way, shape or form.

"Tonight is something that Skylar requested. It wasn't for him to sign, because he already signed. He wanted to say thank you," said Cook's mother, Dawn McKinnie to the crowd. "You all affected him in one way or another throughout his life. So thank you all for the years of continued support."

Cook already officially signed his Letter of Intent to the University of New Mexico to play Division I football during college football's early signing period, but Thursday was a chance for everyone to be a part of it and take in the unforgettable moment.

The support was incredible. From family to friends, and teammates to coaches, everyone in the room had been part of Cook's story - and this was an opportunity to all turn the page together.

Cook took the mic after signing his name and addressed every person he wanted to thank - even turning very emotional in his message to his two brothers and mother.

It was a message that showed immense gratitude to his loved ones that helped shape him at an early age - from emotional guidance during tough times, to being his biggest fans of support.

"To my mom, I don't think there are any amount of words to describe how appreciative I am of you," said Cook on stage while looking at his mother. "You're the person that has taught me there's more to life than just football and sports. You showed me it's important to be there for the community and be thankful for everyone here."

Dawn McKinnie looking at her son with emotion as others speak about Skylar's impact

Cook's emotions came out just moments after telling a powerful story. One that not many people, or anyone, ever knew.

"After my sophomore year, I was actually getting ready to leave," said Cook. "It wasn't anyone's fault or because or anyone in this room. I just felt that would be the best decision for me. But I didn't leave. I stayed at Central and it ended up being the best decision I ever made... It's because of all of you and this community."

Cook's humble personality shined through at Central Union High School over the course of the last several years - where treating others with respect became a staple of his character. Something that allowed him to make a lot of friends, lead others around him and most of all, be a person others could go to for advice.

All of these qualities steered Cook in the direction to become a star both on the field, and in the classroom and community.

"The way I want to be remembered is someone who is impactful on others and someone who was just a leader," said Cook. "This year I embraced that role, being a leader on and off the field, and I'm hoping to do the same in the future."

While talent largely leads to making a direct impact on the field, Cook had both the talent and unique leadership qualities outside of the game that ultimately paved the way to being a key piece for one of the best football program's southern California has to offer.

After watching his brothers play in the program, Cook always dreamed of becoming a Central Spartan. In 2020-2021, he got his chance.

Following the loss of several guys after a perfect 5-0 Covid-shortened season in the spring of 2021, the weight of the program was left for Cook and others to carry and lift it back up.

And that, he was proud to take care of. Cook quickly molded into a team leader as a junior and he built off of that into the next year.

Over his three year varsity career, Cook mustered up a total of 120 tackles while doing most of his work in the Spartan secondary, reeling in nine interceptions. His four picks in his senior season tied him for first in the Imperial Valley and sixth in Division II of the CIF San Diego Section.

Cook after making a play in the 79th Annual Bell Game at Brawley

He even made his contributions on offense, reeling in over 300 yards receiving and two touchdowns. A lot of those coming before Central head coach David Pena made the change for Cook to shift to the other side of the ball as a safety.

As Pena took the stage Thursday night as the next in line to share his gratitude towards his former player, he pointed to that moment as a key part of Cook's growth as a player and as a young man.

"I started to see the way he attacked the baseball in the outfield and the way he attacked the rim. I had to tell him 'you're a safety.' Skylar was a little hesitant to transition to that role, but obviously that role has really paid off," said Pena.

And then looking at Cook he added:

"Continue to attack the process and follow the process. You're going to do a tremendous job at whatever you do in life. Thank you for allowing us at Central to be a part of your life."

It's a good thing he took it upon himself to make the change because Cook helped lead the Spartan defense in 2022, which contributed to defining moments that include a Bell Game victory and an Imperial Valley League crown, before falling short in the Division II semi-finals.

So, following his impressive junior and senior campaign, Cook now finds himself among some of the best of the best from the Imperial Valley to land a Division I spot.

For Cook, after receiving three Division I offers, the decision to take the four-year trip to Albuquerque, New Mexico to become a Lobo was simple.

"I think New Mexico from the beginning, their coaching staff just ensured me that they're really a family-oriented school and program and that I would be well taken care of there," added Cook. "Having good people and family around me really helped me make sure that I was making the best possible choice."

That quote being exemplary of the way Cook has carried himself for so long - by constantly directing any dialogue towards family and relationships. A sign of a wonderful and selfless young man that his mother will forever hold onto.

"I'm so proud of, not just because of your academic awards or because you got a football scholarship. It's the human being you are and the big heart you have," McKinnie directed at her son. "You're always willing to help the next person. Thank you for being there for somebody else, because if you impact one life, you've done your job. And you've impacted many."

Those words all circling back to the human he has molded into over the years - and specifically one powerful sentiment that will never be forgotten by many.

Heading into his freshman year in high school, Cook was fundraising money for baseball - which was something he did often that he joked about on stage Thursday night.

But tragically during that time, a crash ended the life of a correctional officer from Calipatria. When his mother told him he needed to stop the fundraiser out of awareness to the sensitivity of the incident, Skylar said "no."

When Dawn was taken back by his response, Skylar said "no I won't stop because I'm going to give all the money towards that instead."

One powerful gesture for one incredible kid.

All of this an example of the mark Skylar Cook has left on the El Centro, and Imperial Valley, community.

While being the quiet and composed young man that he is, Cook still managed to move the room wherever he was, including on Thursday night.

And in a last few words with a camera in his face, he had one message.

"All glory to God. Without the man upstairs, none of this would be possible. I'm just really thankful for the opportunity."

Article Topic Follows: High School Sports

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Cole Johnson

Cole Johnson is News 11’s Sports Director.

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