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Haverhill's Justin Cook tries to avoid tacklers on a punt return in the first quarter of Haverhill's 20-6 loss to Malden on Sept. 7.

HAVERHILL | Even his impressive statistics are not much comfort to Haverhill High senior Justin Cook.

By almost any measure, the 6-foot, 170-pound wide receiver is enjoying a superb season. He leads the region with 43 catches, good for 738 yards and an area-leading seven touchdown passes, which accounts for the total number thrown by nifty quarterback Peter Byron.

Cook, who also plays some defense and returns kicks, is proud of his accomplishments thus far, but they seem much less meaningful in light of the Hillies' frustrating 0-10 season.

"When I think about it, I feel a little better, but the season has still been tough," said Cook. "We had high hopes and worked really hard, and anything I've done doesn't feel as good because we've been losing. I'd rather be doing this while we're winning."

The losing streak, which has grown to 17 games over the last two years, has been difficult to take, not only on the field, but off it. Enthusiasm for football at the high school has declined as the losses have mounted.

"People pretty much ignore us except for a little bit on Mondays," said Cook. "And some people will tell me that I'm just getting so many (catches) because we're losing."

Actually, according to Haverhill coach Tim Briggs, nothing could be further from the truth.

"When it gets third and long, everyone knows where the ball is going and Justin is still getting open and making catches," said Briggs. "We're seeing two guys on him a lot and, it's gotten to the point that teams aren't defending the other side of the field.

"Justin is one of our most athletic kids and just has a knack for getting the ball. He can run and he's good at jumping to get it even with two defenders out there."

Cook, who hopes to play in college, hasn't been affected much by the extra attention and he views it as a challenge.

"It makes me play harder," he said. "And we've been working on new plays to get open."

Heading into the season, after extensive summer workouts with Byron, Cook and his teammates thought that there would be wins along the way, but they recognized that it would not be easy.

"We have some talented kids, but we're undersized on the line, and that's where it all starts," said Cook.

If there has been a positive, according to Briggs, it's been the example set by Cook and most of his classmates.

"Justin and the rest of the seniors have worked so hard," said Briggs. "He is a good player and a great kid. He also works a job (part time at Penacook Place serving meals) and gets good grades. He's a great example of what we're trying to build with."

Hopefully, that will pay off down the line and perhaps even result in a season-ending win against Lowell today.

"That's a really big game for us," said Cook. "I don't want to be a senior who doesn't win a game."

If it does happen, however, it won't be because Cook didn't give it his all.



Cook catches on

Receptions: 43 (leads area)

Yards: 738 (third in area)

Touchdowns: 7 (tied for area lead)



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