FOR 'COOP' FOOTBALL IS A JOURNEY HE IS NOT GOING TO LET END
After listening to offensive lineman Sam “Coop” Cooper describe his years playing football, it seems more like a journey than an actual career.
You can't call it a career yet because the 6-foot-2, 310 pound interior lineman is determined to keep his journey alive.
Born in Lagos, Nigeria in 1997, Cooper and his mother Vivian moved to Philadelphia in 2003 looking for a new life.
Two years before he was born, Cooper's family had fled Monrovia, Liberia to get away from a devastating civil war.
He is a child of the world and has the genes of a survivor in his blood.
Cooper, who played soccer as a tot in Africa, and his mom ended up in Bucks County where he played baseball as a youth. When he wasn't on the baseball diamond, he could be found at home or at a friend's house playing video games.
So how did Cooper end up playing American football at the collegiate level?
When it came time to enter high school, Copper enrolled at Archbishop Ryan in Northeast
Philadelphia with the intention of playing baseball.
Cooper recalled that on the day he thought was his first baseball practice, he had a miscue that would change his athletic life forever.
“I went into the wrong locker room and got introduced to the football coaches,” Cooper said with a laugh during a recent interview on Footballstories Facebook show.
Apparently those coaches saw an offensive lineman in their midst. That was it. Both sides were smitten with each other.
“They fell in love with me,” Cooper recalled. “I went to my first football practice and they asked me what position I played. I said I never play football, I only play Madden.”
Those Ryan coaches took Cooper out the field and showed him some football drills for linemen.
“You know I found out football was way more stricter, coaches didn't take that as a joke, we got to run a fence line and I fell in love with the grind immediately.”
Cooper fell in love with the grinding but not with the Raiders. After just one year, Cooper transferred to Conwell-Egan where he developed into an All Catholic lineman, blocking for standout running back Joe Ruggiero.
The Eagles didn't win much his junior and senior years, and when your team goes 1-9 and 4-8 respectively those last two season, there aren't many college scouts hanging out at your games.
“I had five scholarships coming out [of Conwell-Egan].” Cooper said. “I got all my scholarships going to Temple's camp. I went to Temple's camp in the summertime, and I love football so much , I missed my aunt's wedding to go to coach (Matt) Rhule's camp. And when I attended there I met all the schools that offered me, Maine was one of them.”
Cooper talked about his short-lived stay with the Black Bears.
“I went to Maine because it was the most uncomfortable place for me,” Cooper said. “I wanted to see how I was going to adapt. I enjoyed my experience there, but things didn’t work out. I ended up going to Merrimack after talking to (head) coach (Dan) Curran.”
With the Warriors, a member of Division II at the time. Cooper felt he had found a home and could develop...he did.
In 2018, the 6-foot-2, 310 pounder saw action in six games in his first season with the Warriors, becoming a starter on the interior offensive line.
Cooper was part of an offensive line that yielded only 17 sacks on the season and helped produce 244.9 passing yards and 377.1 total yards per game, ranking second and fourth in the league in both categories, respectively
Merrimack was also a top-four team in the NE10 in red zone scoring thanks to that offensive line, converting over 80 percent of its tries this season
The private school in North Andover, Massachusetts accepted an invitation to join the Northeast Conference (NEC) beginning in the fall of 2019. The Warriors are still going through their transitional stages until 2023.
In 2019, Cooper was named team captain, He appeared in 10 games for the Warriors as the starting left guard
Cooper combined with Erick Browne to comprise one of the best left tackle-left guard tandems in the NEC.
Cooper was also a member of the offensive line that led the offense to rank third in the conference in total offense with 368 offensive yards per game.
The 23-year-old felt he had the resume to get invited to a NFL Camp. He had an option to request the NCAA award him another season to play since he had been injured during his time at Maine.
He was initially denied the extra year, but he was moving on to pursue a pro career, so at first he didn't appeal.
Then pandemic hit. Cooper was not invited to the official NFL combine in Indianapolis, but he thought he certainly would have opportunities at all the Pro Days and other tryouts the NFL annually offers. But all those opportunities were canceled over COVID-19 concerns.
“I went through with the whole process, trying to pursue an NFL career,” Cooper said. “And I was basically a ghost because no one knew about me, and two weeks before the draft, some teams were interested, but it didn't go well because teams didn't have enough information for me.”
Cooper and Merrimack went back to the NCAA and appealed, and were able to get another year of eligibility. Great, right?
The Warriors schedule was getting hit with postponements and cancellations for the 2020 season. Just last week the NEC postponed its entire schedule.
Cooper's story is a similar, painful story for so many college athletes across the country.
“This is my life, this is what I do,” Cooper said. “I'm addicted to football. I'm 100 percent dedicated to the game and I came here to be successful. I'm originally from Lagos, Nigeria and my family's from Liberia. I came here to be successful in 2003.”
Cooper shared a vow he made to his brother Hassan years ago about his determination to be a pro athlete.
“The last conversation I had with my brother, when he had cancer. I said, 'Listen, I'm going to be successful in a sport,'” said Cooper, who said he brother died in 2006. “'It's either baseball or football, but I promise you I will be a professional football player or baseball player.' I'm telling whoever is [reading this] right now. Next year, I will be in the NFL.”
Don't bet against him. * Follow Al Thompson on Twitter @thompsoniii