As Cooper Kupp leads the Rams into the Super Bowl, an EWU friend shares his memories

click to enlarge Cooper Kupp took impossible catches from Cheney to the NFL. - YOUNG KWAK PHOTO

Young Kwak photo

Cooper Kupp took impossible catches from Cheney to the NFL.

Some of us like to think we knew Cooper Kupp way back when.

Cooper is headed to play in the Super Bowl — taking place in the backyard of his new home in Los Angeles where he suits up for the Rams. It’s a glorious achievement for the newest celebrity in the city of dreams.

Now, those few hundred of us who say we knew Cooper way back when are a few million, and we all will be placing our dreams of a Rams championship on a guy from Yakima who 10 years ago was undersized, underestimated, underappreciated and underexposed.

I was fortunate to witness all 428 catches, 6,464 yards and 73 touchdowns “Coop” had in his record-setting college career at Eastern Washington University. Since then, I’ve done my best to see on TV the 470 grabs, 6,050 yards and 45 scores he’s had in the NFL.

I could drone on about his accomplishments, and droning on and on is what I actually do best. For starters, we share a hometown and an alma mater — Yakima’s Davis High School (1981 for me, 2012 for him).

Cooper and I also shared five incredible seasons of EWU football together. Here are a few of my fondest memories of one Cooper Kupp:

Cooper made an appearance at Spokane’s Albi Stadium in fall 2011 when his Davis Pirates played their first football postseason game in some zillion years. On the field was No. 1, a guy who did it all — caught, passed, returned and tackled. Davis lost 68-22 but it was entertaining, and Cooper caught six passes for 87 yards and was 5-of-10 for 76 yards as a fill-in quarterback.

The fall of 2012 and spring of 2013 were when some of us first saw what Cooper could do. We didn’t see the work in the weight room and his runs up and down the Reese Court stairs — as well as his devotion to video study — but we saw the results at Roos Field in practices and scrimmages.

After his incredible freshman season at EWU, Cooper won the Jerry Rice Freshman of the Year award, but he couldn’t attend the awards ceremony because the Eagles were preparing for a playoff game. In his place, his father, Craig, was there to accept, along with Cooper’s mother, Karin. They got to fraternize with Rice, and we arranged an impromptu phone conversation between Rice and Cooper back home in Cheney.

When quarterback Vernon Adams Jr. suddenly left Eastern to play for the Oregon Ducks, Cooper played for an Eastern team that used three quarterbacks in 2015. On our way to Spokane for an interview, I asked Cooper who he thought would be EWU’s starting quarterback in 2016. Instead of choosing one of the two who saw the most action the previous year, he privately made the bold prediction about a young sophomore named Gage Gubrud. Cooper proved his knowledge (and psychic ability) when Gubrud engineered a season-opening win at Washington State in his first career start and ended the season throwing for over 5,000 yards — exactly 1,700 to Cooper on 117 grabs and 17 touchdowns.

Speaking of Washington State, Cooper opened many eyes to his performances in four games versus Pac-12 foes. In wins over WSU and Oregon State (2013), as well as losses to Washington (2014) and Oregon (2015), he scored 11 touchdowns, and made 40 catches for 716 total yards. It was in the Oregon game — with Adams playing for the Ducks — when Cooper’s YAC (yards after the catch) numbers were off the charts, thanks to an assortment of stiff-arms he possessed in his expansive toolbelt. The totals in that game: 15 grabs for 246 yards and three TDS.

The Eastern versus Montana State game in Bozeman in 2018 saw the secret arrival of Cooper, his wife, Anna, and their newborn son, Cooper Jr. — “June” as he would become known. Cooper was coming off an impressive Thursday performance for the Rams against Minnesota (nine catches for 162 yards), and had a rare weekend off to watch his brother Ketner play for EWU. The media gave the family privacy and space, but the trio would later come to the pressbox postgame — not for an interview, but to change June’s diaper in the EWU coaches booth.

Twice in Cooper’s career his Eastern teams came one victory from advancing to the NCAA Division I Championship Game, but it was in Ketner’s senior season in 2018 they finally made it back. Again under the radar, Cooper, Anna and June made the trip — with Cooper still a little gimpy after a season-ending knee injury a couple of months earlier. Always gracious, Cooper agreed to a pregame interview with a national media outlet before making his way into the stadium, still pretty discreetly at that point in his career.

click to enlarge Smiling, but looking to wreck the Bengals on Sunday. - LOS ANGELES RAMS PHOTO

Los Angeles Rams photo

Smiling, but looking to wreck the Bengals on Sunday.

In recent seasons, we’ve all witnessed the greatness, humbleness and gratitude as Cooper turned into a bonafide NFL superstar. Watch closely and you’ll see the Cooper I know and love — a player not drawing attention to himself, but always deferring it to his teammates and coaches.

It’s called being unpretentious, and I can’t imagine a better poster child for that.

So, my favorite memory of all may be my most recent one. After catching a third-and-18 pass and turning it into a first down during the Rams’ game-winning drive against San Francisco in the NFC championship, Cooper didn’t simply get up and toss the ball to an official like he normally does.

Instead, he stood straight up, clenched his fists at his side, lifted his chest high and looked up to the heavens. In the same motion and showing the emotions of a man after a decade of hard work and sacrifice, he gave out a big yell — surely the biggest yell of his life. He truly deserved to bask in the glory of the moment, and we yelled right along with him. ♦

Dave Cook was the sports information director at EWU from 1990-2021.

Article Source: Inlander