In sports, like in life, timing is everything.
For Claremore High School senior football player Dakota Cook, and his parents Rusty and Brandy, timing played a big part in how this family turned things around.
In the early going, things were dark for this family.
Three days after Dakota was born, Rusty went to prison on drug charges. His mother Brandy wasn't in much better shape. She wasn't incarcerated, but she might as well had been. Drugs had taken their spirit, and Dakota was left to be raised by his grandmother.
"His dad didn't get out until Dakota was 12," Brandy said. "I was a drug addict, and he lived with my mom most of his life. Until I moved to Claremore (from McAlester) and got into a program and worked at She Brews Coffee House."
The move was perfect for this family. They joined First Baptist Church where they met future Claremore football coach Jarrett Hurt. But Dakota was on the verge of slipping away.
He was angry.
Getting into fights.
Didn't care about school.
He had a bad attitude and was heading in the wrong direction.
"I played football when I was in fourth and fifth grade and when I moved here, I didn't play football and didn't have a way to let my anger out," Dakota said. "So if somebody did something to me, I'd freak out on them. When I got back into football in the ninth grade, all that stopped."
Hurt had met Dakota in school, and met his parents at church and Brandy's work. He didn't make the connection yet, but was somehow compelled to get to know this family.
"When I met Dakota, I watched him play in the ninth grade," Hurt said. "I watched him play and I watched him at school and knew he had some built-up anger in him. I just felt like football was his outlet. I felt like if he could take that anger and channel it in a positive way through the game of football, he'd be a success. And here we are in his senior year and he's a huge success. I think he's a huge success story."
Maybe the second-year head coach at Claremore saw something familiar with Dakota. An understanding that other people may not have had because of his own life experience. But Hurt saw it inside Dakota.
"I was drawn to him for some reason," Hurt said. "His story is a lot like my dad's story. My dad had anger issues growing up. He used the game of football as his way out. Dakota's the same way. I hold him 'you're my project.' I remember meeting his mom at church, and there was something about Brandy the first time I met her that I was drawn to. I remember going to Subway and I saw her again. She said she was getting reconnected with her kids. I went home and told my wife and I always told myself I needed to go back to Subway and do something for her, and I regret not doing it to this day. But now I know they are a family. It's a wonderful family and I am just so proud for them for where they're at right now in life."
Brandy joined "His House Ministry" on July 4, 2012 and was then able to be a mother to Dakota. She had some making up to do.
"Emotionally, I wasn't there," she said. "I saw him, but my mom kept him. I probably showed up messed up and when he'd go to bed, he'd be like 'are you going to be here when I wake up?' I'd say yes, but I never was. God saved my life. He's a game changer for me, for real."
Hurt met Rusty on the snowy steps of their church.
“I met Rusty when he was shoveling ice off the steps of First Baptist,” Hurt recalled. “Both of us had a shovel in our hand and we got to talk a little bit and spend some time together. Good people.”
Dakota had been in trouble with the law. He was charged with assault and battery, but also got into a program to help him with his anger and with his grades.
"They let me do a bunch of community service and keep my grades up," Dakota said. "When I was a freshman, I always had Fs. They helped me with my grades and changed a lot of stuff about me."
Things had already changed for the better for the parents. Now it was time to heal Dakota. As they say, it takes a village, and that village was Claremore and its people.
"I feel like being plugged into something has made him what he is," Brandy said. "It could have been a lot different for him. God plugged him in at the right spot, at the right time, with the right people and that just poured into his life. When he first started playing football, he just kept going and the right people got plugged into his life and changed him on the inside. I know God did that. I don't know if he knows, but I know."
Things have changed so much for the entire family. From the depths of addiction and prison to coming into the light and experiencing the joys of life. And they reached the summit Friday in Dakota’s final home football game of the season.
"It was a special moment Friday night when his whole family walked out there for senior night," Hurt said. "I'm so proud of Dakota. He took his first college visit (Sterling College). He had a great visit. I'm sure proud of him."
His mother agrees.
"He's doing so well, I can't explain it," Brandy said. "It could have been so different. I'm so proud he put in the work to make his life different than it could have been."
As for Dakota, the future looks bright. A possible college scholarship awaits the defensive lineman. He has a steady girlfriend. His grades are good. He's staying out of trouble. His family is back together and on the right path.
He can serve as an inspiration for those youngsters who may be going through the same things he did. Things will get better. All you need is a little faith, a guiding hand and good timing.
"Hard work pays off," Dakota said. "Keep working hard. Don't give up when things get hard. Don't give up."