WATERLOO – It was a pressure situation that most freshmen wouldn’t have handled well.
But Northern Iowa’s Matthew Cook wasn’t your typical newcomer.
Sent onto the field for the first kick of his career in front of a hostile crowd of 50,000 screaming Iowa State fans, Cook maintained his composure.
And drilled a clutch 50-yard field goal to silence the pro-Cyclone crowd. He followed by converting on his next three attempts, including a 49-yarder, in a dazzling debut for the Panthers.
“I was able to stay focused and I was ecstatic when that first kick went through,” Cook said. “It was just a great moment that I was able to celebrate with my teammates.”
Now in his third year as a starter for UNI, Cook returns to Jack Trice Stadium when the Panthers open their season Sept. 4 at No. 7 Iowa State.
A guy who carries the Twitter handle – Matty Ice – Cook knows how to stay cool under pressure.
A two-time all-Missouri Valley Football Conference selection, Cook has converted on 34 of 44 career field-goal attempts. He is a preseason all-conference selection this season.
UNI coach Mark Farley has been impressed with his kicker.
“Matt’s been very consistent for us,” Farley said. “He had great success right away his first year and everybody has a lot of confidence in him. He just has to continue to know that everybody believes in him and everybody trusts him. No one can be perfect, but we expect him to play to a high standard. And he’s been excellent for us.”
Farley also does his part to keep his kicker prepared for those challenging late-game situations.
“Coach Farley tells it like it is, and I appreciate that,” Cook said. “He likes to stand next to us in practice and yell a little bit in our ear when we’re kicking. And he always has our back, no matter what.”
Cook was an all-state kicker while kicking in the UNI-Dome for Cedar Falls High School. He was a key member of the 2018 Tiger team that reached the Class 4A state championship game.
He has continued to excel while kicking in the same venue for Northern Iowa.
“I love kicking in the Dome,” Cook said. “It’s obviously a great place to kick when you don’t have to worry about the wind or the rain. It feels like home when I’m in there.”
Cook has aspirations of playing professionally.
“I would love to keep playing beyond college,” he said following Friday’s practice at Waterloo’s Memorial Stadium. “I know I need to put in a lot of work if I want to get there, but it’s definitely a goal and something I’ve thought about.”
The Panthers are determined to come back strong this fall after going 3-4 in the abbreviated, COVID-impacted schedule in the spring. They lost four games by a total of just 15 points.
Northern Iowa is ranked 22nd nationally in the FCS and was picked to finish fifth in the conference in a preseason poll.
“Being picked fifth, that motivates us a ton,” Cook said. “We are ready to show everyone what we have. We know we’re much better than that.”
UNI returns all 22 starters, 11 on offense and 11 on defense, along with an excellent kicker in Cook.
“This team has great chemistry,” he said. “Everyone here is pushing each other and everyone is really supportive of one another. There is great competition going on in practice. We’re really excited to get the season started. We’re all ready.”
The Panthers now take aim at Iowa State in the first meeting between the teams since the Panthers lost a 29-26 triple-overtime heartbreaker two years ago in Ames.
“I remember a lot of things going right for us in that game,” Cook said. “We started picking up momentum in the second half and it came right down to the wire. We are looking forward to having another chance to play them.”
So what do the Panthers need to do to knock off the favored Cyclones when they square off in two weeks?
“We have the personnel and we have the coaching,” Cook said. “We have everything we need to make it happen.”
Craig Sesker is a sports reporter for the Courier. Follow him on Twitter at @Craigsesker. You can reach him via email at Craig.Sesker@WCFCourier.com or via phone at 319-575-2891.