New Kid on the Block: Lacrosse offers opportunity to former high school football player

By Shane Hulsey

Less than a year ago, Zach Cookson had done no more than watch lacrosse highlights on YouTube.

Now he’s an NCAA lacrosse player.

Cookson will begin his lacrosse career for Quincy University in its inaugural season in Spring 2020.

Cookson, a junior transfer from John Wood Community College in Quincy, Ill., played football for five years, including four years as a defensive back for Quincy High School. He even received an offer from Division III Augustana College to play football. 

Cookson said his introduction to lacrosse occurred while attending Quincy High.

“My agility trainer used tell me to look at drills on YouTube,” he said. “A lot of what I found were lacrosse-based things. A lot of times I would end up in lacrosse highlights. The game is just so fast-paced, and the one-on-one side of the game is like no other, really.”

Cookson received a mass email from Christine Tracy, the vice president for student development at QU, in July 2018 inviting students interested in joining QU’s new lacrosse program to contact head coach Eric Ruppel.

Cookson did just that.

“I contacted Coach Ruppel, and we met up in person,” Cookson said. “We went out on the field and threw the ball around a little bit, and here we are.”

Cookson had some help getting started, though.

“I check my email more than he checks his,” said Emma Hoyt, Cookson’s girlfriend of three years. “When I saw Dr. Tracy’s email, I sent it to him and told him, ‘Hey, this would be a cool opportunity.’ He was like, ‘Oh, this is cool. I actually might email her back.’ I wasn’t super surprised that he said that, but I was kinda shocked that he was actually gonna go for it.”

Cookson began one-on-one workouts with Ruppel in late summer. During these workouts, Cookson learned basic passing skills and worked his way up to doing shooting drills.

He caught on rather quickly.

“He started picking up the sport much quicker than you usually see,” Ruppel said. “It usually takes about two weeks to start catching and throwing pretty well. Zach was doing that by day two.”

As for when Spring 2020 rolls around, Ruppel said Cookson will be just fine.

“Zach’s athleticism will keep him afloat for the first season until he gets some more skills,” he said. “Once he develops those skills, I think he’ll be dangerous.

“If you have it, you have it. It doesn’t matter how long you’ve been playing. If you’re athletic and you have good hand-eye coordination, you have the tools to be successful in lacrosse. Zach definitely has those two things, so his only learning curve is going to be the IQ of the field. Once we start practices in the fall, I think he’ll be fine.”

Cookson is going to school to be a chiropractor and works as a pharmacy technician at Hy-Vee in Quincy.

He said his academic pursuits and the new challenges of college have made him let go of athletics…until now.

“In high school, I was very athletic and in very good shape,” he said, “but I’ve kinda let that go due to not playing sports anymore and focusing on becoming a chiropractor and everything that entails. Lacrosse is an opportunity for me to find myself and get to where I was and where I want to be.”

Hoyt said Cookson’s personality is well-suited for a team sport like lacrosse.

“He likes to be a part of something bigger than himself,” she said. “He works better with other people on a team because he feels more at home and because that’s what he’s used to.”

Cookson isn’t content with just being a part of the team, though.

“Obviously, in my first year, I don’t really look at myself as starting right off the bat,” he said. “But I want to be in the rotation. I wanna work my way up to becoming a starter.

“I’m not gonna be okay with being somebody’s backup.”

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