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Building Connections: Marley Cook

Building Connections: Marley Cook

by Christy Cabrera Chirinos

This story originally appeared in the Spring 2024 edition of Hurricanes Magazine.

MIAMI – Every Wednesday afternoon during the spring, once his workouts were finished and his classwork was done, Marley Cook got in his car and drove west.

His weekly commute was a mere eight-mile trip down Miller Drive, but each passing minute took him farther and farther away from the hustle and bustle of South Florida and brought him closer to a place that, surprisingly enough, reminded him of his home in Water Valley, Mississippi.

The soft, warm breezes. The chirping birds occasionally interrupting the quiet. And the horses. The tall, majestic, gentle horses, including one of his personal favorites, Ben.

At Whispering Manes Therapeutic Riding Center, Marley – a defensive lineman who joined the Hurricanes in January after spending four seasons at Middle Tennessee State – discovered that not only could he reconnect with his lifelong love of horses even in an urban center like Miami, but that he could help some very special individuals discover the joy of horses and riding, too.

“I did not know Miami had any horses out here at all,” Cook chuckled during one of his afternoons at the Center. “I thought it was straight lizards, alligators, and crocodiles. But when [assistant athletic director for academic services and director of football academics Jessica Lopez] told me about this, I had a little joy.”

That joy only grew throughout Cook’s internship at Whispering Manes.

Each week, he’d help groom, care for, and feed the horses at the five-acre facility in southwest Miami-Dade. And each week, he’d assist Whispering Manes instructor Sarah Piñon with her afternoon classes, classes that allow special needs individuals to build not only their physical strength, but confidence and self-esteem through therapeutic rides on dedicated horses.

Sometimes, that help was as simple as using his 6-foot-2 frame to fill the horses’ tall feeders with hay and other times, it meant guiding a horse and rider around the ring while Piñon led a class.

There was no talk of football, no talk of the weight-room records he set in the offseason or of the practices on Greentree where Cook was working to build chemistry with his new Miami teammates.

While he was interning at Whispering Manes, Cook’s focus was on the horses, his colleagues around the barn and the essential work they were doing for center’s riders in the ring.

“He knows about horses, and horse behavior and he knows how to deal with the kids that might be afraid of horses,” Piñon said of Cook. “And he helps take some of that fear away. With him here specifically, I know that one of the riders feels better with Marley. [The rider] has a lot of trouble dismounting from the horse. That’s something that we’ve been practicing, but having Marley here, that really helps him.”

Cook’s passion for horses began during his childhood in Water Valley when he and his father, Broderick, came upon a starving horse not far from their home.

They rescued the horse, nursed her back to health, and named her Sally. And once Sally was healthy and Cook felt more comfortable with the Tennessee Walker, he took to riding Sally as often as he could.

He still, of course, enjoys spending time with her when he returns home.

Eventually, Cook took his love of horses with him to Middle Tennessee where, while he played football, he took animal science classes that allowed him to help provide care for horses at a nearby equine center.

When he came to Miami, he shared that experience and his love of horses with Lopez, who suggested the internship at Whispering Manes as part of his course of study.

It was, Cook said, a natural fit.

“This isn’t about me now. It’s about the community,” Cook said. “I’ve got this opportunity to help the kids and the community. … I would say my favorite part is just being around [the kids] and seeing them have a smile at the end of the day. … This is all about them.”

Cook has balanced his work at Whispering Manes with both his responsibilities in the classroom and on the football field.

The redshirt senior is expected to add depth and experience to a defensive line unit that was a force for the Hurricanes last year.

Cook, who this offseason set a new Hurricanes squat record when he lifted 705 pounds during a workout, used spring practice to not only get to know his new teammates, but to master Miami’s playbook and learn from his new coaches.

So far, he says, the process has gone smoothly.

“Everything’s been going great with not only me, but my teammates, too,” Cook said of his first weeks as a Hurricane. “I love seeing everybody improve. And my coaches, my coaches love to teach. They’re coaching me up every day, on everything I’ve got to work on, because nobody’s perfect. I just love working on my craft every day and then the playbook, I’ve got that down pat now. At first, I thought it was going to be very hard, but I’ve got it down pat. Now, at the end of the day, I’m getting great work here.”

"Working here has been all about helping people."

Defensive lineman Marley Cook, on his experience at Whispering Manes Therapeutic Riding Center

With spring football and his internship behind him, Cook – like the rest of the Hurricanes – will now turn his focus to the offseason and preparing for Miami’s season opener against rival Florida on Aug. 31.

The lineman is excited to see where his time as a Hurricane takes him and he’s confident it will only help him build on an already successful college career that has already had him total 61 tackles, 19 tackles for loss and 10.5 sacks.

“I said at the end of the day, I just want to show the guys that you don’t have to be the biggest talker. I’m not the biggest talker,” Cook said. “But you have to show your worth at the end of the day. I just want to be able to lead by example.”

His experience at Whispering Manes, he added, has only helped him on that front.

“Working here has been all about helping people,” he said. “We’ve got everything here, lined up, to help people that need help. … And it’s a good little bit of country life out here.”