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Shrine Bowl pick Cooley signs with Wake Forest, to enroll early

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Football has consumed much of Quinton Cooley’s life for the past four months, but it’s going to be a big part of the Southern Nash High senior’s life for the next four years.

Cooley, who is in Spartanburg, South Carolina, this week preparing for Saturday’s Shrine Bowl of the Carolinas, signed a National Letter of Intent to play football at Wake Forest University on Wednesday, the start of the early signing period. Cooley, who helped the Firebirds reach the North Carolina High School Athletic Association 3-A championship game last week, plans to graduate early and enroll at Wake Forest for the spring semester.

“It’s been a good journey for me, committing to Wake,” said Cooley in a telephone interview Tuesday morning.

He gave his verbal commitment last spring, shortly after getting the offer from Demon Deacons head coach Dave Clawson. Only the U.S. Naval Academy had offered the 5-foot-8, 193-pound running back, but he was getting attention from plenty of other colleges, including North Carolina and East Carolina. But Cooley was immediately impressed with Wake Forest, from its coaches to its players and even fellow recruits.

“All the other commits talked to me,” he said. “When I went up there, every coach talked to me. The relationship is strong with them.”

That was enough for Cooley to decide to become a Demon Deacon and join just a handful of Firebirds to sign with an Atlantic Coast Conference program. Because he has enough credits to graduate, Cooley will end his high school career in a matter of days and become a college freshman the first of the year.

It’s not a path he imagined even as recently as last summer.

“No, I really didn’t,” said Cooley, who added that he watched Firebirds teammate Zonovan “Bam” Knight graduate early and enroll at N.C. State and didn’t think he wanted to leave early. But after consulting with Southern Nash head coach Brian Foster, decided to make the jump now, rather than next summer.

The son of the late Edward White, Cooley lives with his aunt, Taquisha Walker, in Bailey. He said that he hasn’t decided on a major — yet.

“I’m probably going to go education,” he said. “I could see myself being a coach. I just love football.”

Cooley did a lot of teaching this season, holding class on Friday nights. The dynamic back who could run over or run past defenders posted more than 3,000 rushing yards and scored 55 total touchdowns, both tops in the state and among the national leaders in both categories on Maxpreps.com.

“My role is going to stay focused and do what they ask me to do and go in with a positive attitude,” Cooley said.

He does have one more high school game to play as he and his North Carolina teammates will face the best from South Carolina in the 83rd Shrine Bowl. Despite exiting the locker room on crutches after injuring his ankle late in the 3-A championship game, Cooley said he was back on the practice field and having a great time in Spartanburg.

Cooley is rooming with Mountain Island Charter star running back Elijah Burris, who committed to UNC.

“They call him my twin. I like him,” Cooley said with a laugh.

He also has as a teammate is Malik McGowan, the 6-4, 315-pound Charlotte Catholic lineman and UNC commit. McGowan was the Cougars’ No. 75 who Cooley noted after the Firebirds’ 23-7 loss was “right there” every time he looked up.

Cooley laughed and said, “But now I’m running behind him!”

The week in Spartanburg, which will include a trip to the Greenville Unit Shriner’s Hospital for Children, will give Cooley a chance to have some fun before his life speeds back up again.

“It feels great,” he said. “All of these guys are really fun to hang around with. They’re all fun.”

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