CORVALLIS — His teammates might find this hard to believe, but Brandin Cooks arrived at Oregon State thinking he wouldn't get close with anyone. Get in, get work done on the football field, graduate and move on, Cooks thought to himself.
His plan lasted all of 20 minutes. Because the second that Cooks, a receiver from Stockton, Calif., started talking to Storm Woods, running back from Pflugerville, Texas, it became clear Cooks wouldn't be flying solo the next four years.
Cooks and Woods became instant friends, building a bond so close that teammates, coaches and media tease them about having a "bromance." The two just laugh it off, happy to be thought of as inseparable.
"This whole team is close, there's no doubt, but by far, we're closer than everyone," Wood says.
"We're like Oreos," says Cooks with a broad smile. "Always stuck together."
They are young, playful and goofy, joking around so much that at the beginning of the school year they were banned from taking classes together by their academic adviser, Megan O'Quin. She relented when she learned both needed a sports science class for their major, but sternly warned them that if they sat in the back of class and giggled the whole time, there would be consequences.
Their friendship, says Woods, is special. But more than that, it's critical to this team's success.Through three games, Cooks, a sophomore, and Woods, a redshirt freshman, have quickly blossomed into two of the Pac-12's bright young stars. Cooks leads the league in receiving yards per game (134.7) and after a monster 161-yard performance at Arizona, Woods is averaging just under 100 rushing yards. And while they are quick to brag about each other's success, Woods and Cooks say they are constantly trying to one-up each other.
"We like to joke around 24/7 and we laugh at such inappropriate times it's bad," Woods says. "But when we go to work, it's on. We don't like losing to each other in anything, and I think that's what makes us close."
Before games, Cooks and Woods will "talk crazy" to each other, challenging the other to make sure he doesn't get stopped by opposing defenders. They compare notes on the sidelines, seeing which one will finish with the bigger game.
"Anytime you have two good players who are in the same recruiting class, it's going to drive up competition," says receivers coach Brent Brennan, who has had a front-row seat to Cooks-Woods friendship. "It's like Markus Wheaton and Jordan Poyer — they came in at the same time, and they make each other better every day. Storm and Brandin are the same. The cool thing about them is that they're both so excited for each other when they're successful."
Brennan isn't exaggerating. After Oregon State's surprise 27-20 win at UCLA, Cooks said he got choked up watching Woods — "someone like my brother" — score the first touchdown of his college career.
"We get a lot of flak from our teammates but we don't care," Cooks says. "We're so goofy together and people love it. We bring smiles to people's faces. He'll do stuff like come into my room and jump on my bed to wake me up "… it's like we grew up together."
It's true that they might as well be brothers. Woods and Cooks dress alike and talk alike, and earlier this season cut their hair the exact same way. They have a secret handshake, and an ongoing Madden video game battle, which Woods leads 6-5. Cooks even calls Mary Barrs "Grandma," too, even though she's only related to Woods.
There is one pregame tradition, though, that only belongs to Cooks "… for now.
At the beginning of each week, Cooks paints his toe nails the color of that Saturday's opponent. First it was red and white (Wisconsin), then baby blue and gold (UCLA) and last week it was dark red and dark blue (Arizona). The idea, Cooks says, is to remind himself each day that he needs to "step on" his opponent. So far, his superstition is paying off.
So does that mean that by mid-season, Cooks and Woods will be painting each other's nails in preparation for big games?
Cooks laughs. That, he admits, might be taking their friendship a little too far.