Our next guest, Candler Cook, knows firsthand that dreams can come true, but only if you are willing to fight for them. He is the author of From Underdog to Bulldog, and yes, we’re talking about the University of Georgia Bulldogs.
Candler was a lifelong Bulldog’s fan who decided at the age of seven that he wanted to play football for the University of Georgia. Despite being only a fourth string linebacker on his high school squad, he remained laser focused on his quest. Today we talk to Candler about his journey and all the ways we can come from behind if we put our mind to it.
Candler Cook: A younger friend of mine named John Hoff basically shared the exact same dream that I had. He wanted to play football for Georgia. Both of his parents went to Georgia, and he grew up a big fan as well. He started asking me questions about, “How do I walk onto the team? How do the conduct tryouts? Are there even tryouts? What do I need to be ready for?”
I helped mentor him and coached him through that process and tell him to talk to what to be ready for at what times during the tryout. John ended up going on to achieve his dream. He made the football team and was on there for two seasons. It just made me think that there have to be more people out there than just John that could benefit from this story and from what I’ve learned from it. So really right after that I started writing this book, and that is my goal.
So that a lot of people will be able to relate to the story or relate to setting goals like that and help use this as a blueprint to pursue their own goals.
Rae Williams: Give us an overview about what your story is.
Candler Cook: So at the end of the day, it’s a story of pursuing my life’s dream. To start with, as a kid I always wanted to play football for Georgia. I spent Saturdays with my dad watching college football, and when we weren’t going to the games in person.
It is really a way of life in the fall. You are not doing else on Saturdays. You are just watching college football. So being such a huge fan, I really wanted to take it to the next level and play when I grew up.
And the closer that I got to that, at least until I became a freshman in college, the farther away I was getting to that goal. I realized just how tough it is to achieve that goal, just how physically imposing these other players. They are actually on the team especially with having no starting experience in high school, not making any plays. So really once I get to college, I just broke it down into small steps.
If I do these things, if I do this when I work out, if I eat this much food, if I practice drills, put this many hours a day then I am going to continue to improve.
I would basically compare myself to the week before. I would look at the numbers that I lifted and the times that I ran the previous week and try to always beat myself—not necessarily focused on beating other people. Then after a while, I saw tremendous progress through that, and eventually came through and made the team.
It was really just about pursuing something that I love and finding a way against the odds to make it happen and that is something that I think a lot of people can relate to and can learn something from.
Who Needs From Underdog to Bulldog
Rae Williams: Who is your audience for this book? Are you talking to all underdogs or is there someone special that you were thinking about or had in mind when you decided to sit down and write this?
Candler Cook: So this book really applies to two groups of people. One are die-hard college football fans. Really football fans or sports fans in general. This is a behind the scenes look at SEC football. Everything from what the team does in the off season, how the coaches interact with the players, how you can try out and make the team, what the team chemistry is like, everything like that.
It is a really unique behind the scenes look that you wouldn’t get normally from viewers watching ESPN.
And then also, it is definitely for the underdogs out there. It’s for people who have a big goal and it something that maybe seem so ridiculous that they don’t feel comfortable talking with other people about it, but they still want to achieve this.
So it is just showing you beyond saying, in general, work hard to get your goal. It is showing you how to take specific steps to get there. So each chapter, I really break that down and say, “This is the part of your goal you need to be focusing on now.”
And it is basically like building a staircase. You start at the bottom and you put one stair above that and one stair above that, and then soon enough you are at the top. It just breaks it down into smaller, more attainable goals. You should really feel a sense of progress and motivation the whole way instead of just getting dejected that you don’t achieve your final goal immediately.
Taking Steps Toward Goals
Rae Williams: What is one big thing that people can take action on this week and tomorrow and next month to go towards our goals?
Candler Cook: I would say break it down into specific small steps. So, when you have a goal, like mine was to make the football team, that is way too general of a goal to just start doing that. You need to break it down to very specific actions that you can achieve each day and from there, that will continue to build on itself.
For my specific goal, that was making sure that I ate enough that I was continuing to gain weight. I was making sure that I ran enough that I was continuing to get faster and practice football drills enough and then working out enough.
I broke it down from there into what drills do I need to be doing, what sprints I need to be doing, what do I need to be eating?
So, you take this giant goal and you break it into smaller pieces and each day, you just do those small pieces again and again and again and it builds up, and eventually you’ll back and be amazed at the progress that you’ve made all because you’ve continually taken these small steps.
Rae Williams: What was the hardest part for you, and what do you anticipate for people trying to reach their goals?
Candler Cook: I would say it’s being able to handle rejection and obstacles well. That was definitely a big part of my story. It was the fact that I did get cut from the team twice, but it’s also the fact that I use that as a learning opportunity. I continued to improve myself from it. So you have to know that you are going to hit failures along the way, and you cannot let that get you down but you also have to learn from them and not just always continue to try to do the same things over and over.
So, it is being able to handle both success and failure as a way to stay motivated and not just only be motivated by successes.
Failure Doesn’t Stop Us
Rae Williams: What is one way that you particularly handled some of those failures?
Candler Cook: I would say one very important thing was that I had to be willing to take back, and by that, I mean re-evaluate my approach. So, I have been doing a lot of the things the same way or just pushing harder and harder and the second time that I got cut from the team, I saw that there really just wasn’t working.
I just did not think that that was going to continue to get me there. So, I had to take a step back and re-evaluate some things that I had my mind set on and tried different ways to get to this goal.
So, for me specifically, that was being willing to change positions. I decided to change to a defensive position. I have never played before at any level. I taught myself how to play by watching YouTube videos.
My first time ever practicing that live was in a practice with a coach watching. That’s something that can be nerve-wracking, but the more I looked at it, the more that actually played to my strengths to just specific opposition. I would say, it’s not being tied to doing things one specific way. so much, sometimes you need to step back and have an open mind to be willing to take a different approach.
Rae Williams: What happens when people aren’t holistically approaching their failures and kind of breaking down their goals into bite sized pieces?
Candler Cook: I would say, you quickly become dejected and the odds of you giving up become a lot higher. If you set this one big goal, specifically using the example of my goal, it took me 1,543 days to make that happen. If I just set out from the beginning where that was the only goal, that’s the only thing I’m focused on, there are no sub goals.
Well that’s a lot of rejection from 1,543 days. I’d say you’re much more likely to give up if you don’t break it down into these sub goals and if you don’t have that motivation along the way of continuing to hit milestones.
Rae Williams: Nice, okay. What do you think is the most unique idea or story from your book that people will remember?
Candler Cook: The initial story that happens very early in the book, it’s about my dad, and I actually went to a Georgia game when I was a freshman in high school and when I was there, we saw some of the injured players. One was Kregg Lumpkin, a freshman running back who is doing very well. I talked with him, got him to sign a T shirt, and he coached me up on some skills.
Well, fast forward to when I was a freshman in college, there was one day where the weight room was so full that we had to rotate in and work in with some of the guys at different stations and I asked to work and Kregg turned around actually and said, sure, “You can work in here.” And seeing someone that I looked up to, had a T shirt signed by, and supposed to be competing along with. Such a humbling experience and kind of a unique story.
It was also definitely motivating because, just thinking, these are the guys that I looked up to, and now, I’m here, it’s my turn. I really need to put my best foot forward.
I thought that was a cool moment from this book.
Rae Williams: What was your writing process like?
Candler Cook: I took some time to just make sure that I was being very detailed with it, because specially going back and looking at the story, sometimes it can be tempting to kind of jump to the end and focus on the fun part where all of the goals are getting checked off quickly. I finally hit my ultimate goal. But I would say, just making sure that I really put myself back in those shoes, where was I at this point in time, what was going through my mind.
Just making sure that I really capture all of it, was one of the biggest things for me. Then I don’t just focus on the end when things are going well, because I want to help other people and I want it to be a very realistic look at success and failure and to deal with both of those.
Making Big Dreams Happen
Rae Williams: What would your advice be to somebody who is in the position that you were in, looking at that TV screen in the very beginning and wanting to do something that seems unattainable?
Candler Cook: Well, I would say, first, you need to be very specific about what you want. If you start with a goal that’s too generic or just, I want to get better at something, you’re never going to be able to measure it. You know, when you set goals, one of the most important things is making sure that it’s measurable, so you can see this sense of progress to see how close you’re getting.
Make sure that you measure it, make sure that you are very specific about the sub goals that you set along the way. You can’t just only define the end goal, there have to be specific milestones that will help serve as a blueprint to get you there. And then making sure that you keep the right attitude throughout the whole process, because there are going to be ups and downs and sometimes those are right next to each other. You may think that your end goal was right around the corner, but it’s not. You hit another obstacle.
It’s just making sure that you approach success and failure the same way. Both as motivation to continue to improve and just making sure that you just stay focused and working hard the entire time and don’t let anything distract you.
Rae Williams: How do you keep positive?
Candler Cook: It’s something that has to come from within. You can’t wait for other people to complement you or speak positively about your performance because that actually all comes at the end when you don’t even really need it anymore. Once you know that, you are ready to achieve your goals. I would say, you have to be very self-driven.
Compare yourself to where you were a week or a month before. See that progress and let that motivate you and just make sure that your motivation is coming from within and that you’re not depending on other people’s praise to continue to motivate yourself.
Connect with Candler Cook
Rae Williams: What is one thing that readers can do from your book or from just your expertise to completely change their life?
Candler Cook: I would challenge people to sit down and find that goal, find the one thing that you’ve been wanting to do, something maybe that you put off for years or that you thought was too difficult. It could be anything.
It could be to get a promotion at work, it could be to travel the world, anything that’s truly important to you and just start working towards it. Start setting some specific goals, breaking it down, track your progress, and make sure that you stay motivated.
One of the biggest parts is just to start it, so many people procrastinate for years and years and then eventually get up and say, “Well, it’s been too long.” Or they just don’t want to try it now. One of the most important things is you just get started and then you keep working and learn from both success and failure along the way.
Rae Williams: All right, awesome. I’m going to assume that you’re a lifelong Georgia fan.
Candler Cook: Absolutely, yes. I always went to their games growing up, I still go to almost every single game each year. That’s definitely a huge part of my life.
Rae Williams: What other teams are you a fan of, and what can we learn from some of those teams that you support?
Candler Cook: I’m from Atlanta, so I really like all of the hometown teams. The Atlanta Falcons, I love Atlanta United, they’re only in their third year playing soccer but they won the MLS Cup last year. They always bring big crowds. And then the Braves as well.
I would say, from some of those teams, they’re definitely learning some things not to do just from some of those team’s performances. But I would say, just to never give up and keep fighting. Even when you get down, you still keep pushing as hard as you can.
Because things could turn around and you never know where that one moment will be.
Rae Williams: Awesome. How can people reach you or find you if they want to connect and talk about some of the ideas in your book?
Candler Cook: Sure, well they can feel free to reach out to me on LinkedIn, my name is Candler Cook or just at my email firstname.lastname@example.org. I definitely want to connect with people, the response I’ve been receiving so far has been great and I want to get this book in the hands of people that can really take something from it and apply it to their own lives.
Rae Williams: Is there anything else that you think that people need to know or that you wanted to add?
Candler Cook: I would say this book is both a memoir, it’s something that you know, a lot of football fans will find exciting, but really at a deeper level, it’s about learning about yourself that being the reader that when you’re reading this, you’re meant to, and I break it down by chapter so that you’ll actually think about your own goals and bring those down.
It’s really a call to action and not just passively reading the book.
I would say, it’s something that should be very motivational and that you know, anybody who has that goal or that objective that they’ve kind of been pushing off for a while, should definitely pick this up, and they would learn a lot from it.