One of the area’s best linebackers, Cochran’s senior football season was dwindling to a handful of games. But the 5-foot-11, 210-pounder had not released the idea of one day taking snaps behind center.
“I have always wanted to play quarterback,” said Cochran. “The dream came true, and I didn’t take it for granted.”
The Warriors were struggling with a record of 2-5 when head coach Jason Jarrett decided to try something different on offense. Cochran said the decision made him a little nervous.
“Coach Jarrett came to me before practice and said, ‘We’re going to make a change, and we’re putting you back there,’ ” said Cochran. “I got butterflies when he said it, but I just rolled with it and tried to be coachable. I tried to do what I do best, and lead the team as best I can.”
Cochran excelled in the role right off the bat. He rushed for 127 yards in a loss to Johnson County, but led the Warriors to three dominant wins to close the season — including Friday’s 21-0 whipping of South Greene for a share of the Region 1-2A championship.
“The guys before were doing well, but we were having trouble moving the ball offensively,” said Jarrett, whose team will play at Oneida in the first round of the playoffs Friday. “We felt like the defense was playing good enough to win games, but we weren’t quite getting it done.”
Jarrett commended previous starter, sophomore Eli Ayers.
“He did a good job for us,” said Jarrett. “He has been a good teammate in supporting Dakota. We feel confident in him as well.”
In his first game behind center, Cochran basically ran a limited wildcat package. But in Cochran’s three starts, Jarrett opened the playbook and the Warriors used their normal offense.
Cochran rushed for 91 yards with three touchdowns in the 44-16 win over Sullivan North. He also passed for 81 yards, including a 43-yard touchdown strike to Josh Hyatt.
“It was a dream come true,” said Cochran of the touchdown pass. “I’ve always wanted to do something like that. It was just wild. Unreal.”
Cochran said his confidence to make plays in the passing game came from his teammates.
“I had confidence the line would block and confidence the wide receivers would catch it,” he said. “That helped me be more comfortable.”
Cochran also caught a 2-point conversion pass against the Raiders on Happy Valley’s version of the “Philly Special,” made famous in last year’s Super Bowl by the Philadelphia Eagles.
In a 40-7 win over West Greene the following week, Cochran had his best game. He rushed for 82 yards with three scores, passed for 100 yards, and added a 70-yard fumble return for a touchdown.
He touched up his newly minted impressive resume with 125 yards rushing and two touchdowns against South Greene to go along with 36 yards passing on just three attempts.
At his linebacker position, Cochran has been dominant. His staggering stats include 138 tackles (second in Northeast Tennessee), 10 tackles for loss, eight sacks (ranked second in NET), a forced fumble, a fumble recovery, and four interceptions (tied for second).
“He’s a very physical hard-nosed kid,” said Jarrett. “At the same time, he’s coachable. And the team is behind him.”
Cochran said the move to quarterback forced him to change the way he previously viewed the game.
“I definitely had to change my perspective,” said Cochran. “Whatever the coach told me, I did it. I just wanted to be a leader, and lead my team to victory.”
To keep their season alive, the Warriors face a tough road task.
“We will have to play our best game,” said Cochran, who added he hopes to be playing college football in 2019. “We have to have the right mindset. We’re going on a business trip.”