Cooper, 23, is a junior but says he will take online classes to graduate in May with a degree in criminal justice. The 6-foot-4, 300-pound lineman played his high school ball at Tacoma's Wilson High.
"It was a tough decision just because I'm leaving the university that gave so much to me and my family: the opportunity for me to even be here and receive an education," Cooper said. "That was a tough decision but ultimately me and my family realized the opportunity doesn't happen very often for anybody and it was there for the taking and I felt that it was in my heart to go get it."
While the NFL draft advisory board recommended that he stay in school, that is the required recommendation for anyone that is not expected to be a first or second round selection.
NFL draft analyst Rob Rang of CBS says that Cooper does not have to fear going undrafted.
"He's probably an early day-three player, which would mean fourth round," Rang said. "I could see third round. He's a big, athletic guy who moves well. He's shown versatility at defensive tackle and defensive end. You'd like him to be a little bit stronger but he's a legitimate talent."
Cooper started for three years at either defensive tackle or defensive end for WSU. He led the Cougars with five sacks and 9.5 tackles for loss this season. The Cougars will have a decidedly different look on the defensive line next season, as fellow longtime starter Kalafitoni Pole has graduated and is pursuing his own NFL dreams.
He plans to sign with an agent shortly and believes he will be invited to the NFL scouting combine.
"It's a risk but there's risk in anything you want in life and you can't be afraid to fail," Cooper said. "Anything I've wanted I've had to beat the obstacle of being afraid but you can't go anywhere if you're afraid."
While I had Rang on the telephone, I also asked him about some of WSU's other NFL draft prospects.
Here's what he had to say about wide receiver Vince Mayle:
You know, at this point I would say that he's also a third or fourth rounder. It's going to come down to two things. One, he's obviously been very, very productive this year. I'm very curious to see how he performs at the Senior Bowl where he's not the featured target and has to play a more traditional role. And then how he runs the 40-yard dash. He's a very big player and does have some agility and acceleration for a big guy but he's not as physical a blocker as you might think and I just question his pure, straight-line speed.
He's a guy that obviously had a productive season, he's got a chance to really boost his stock if he performs well in the workouts.
Rang added that the drops that plagued Mayle late in the season will be a big concern for NFL teams and that they make it all the more imperative that he performs well in the Senior Bowl and at the combine.
He did say:
"He had so many passes thrown his way in that offense that I think sometimes you can overlook a couple passes being dropped and the fact that he's a former basketball player, you can overlook some rough patches. But at the same time, he does drop the ball and he did a year ago, as well. That's pretty much a concern."
On quarterback Connor Halliday:
The injury is certainly a concern. He's going to have to prove that he's healthy. He's got such a slim build that unfortunately, he's got to spend the time to recover from his injury and he's not going to be able to bulk up and it limits his ability to really present a big, impressive frame that some of these other guys are going to be able to develop over the next couple of months leading into the draft.
At the same time, this is as bad of a senior quarterback class as I've seen since 2001 when I started doing this. So there are going to be some players that are selected late that will surprise some people and Connor Halliday's got a legitimate NFL arm and there's no doubt in my mind that he'll get an invite to a camp somewhere, and if he throws the ball with consistency than he absolutely could surprise people and make an NFL roster.
Rang said that the upcoming NFLPA Collegiate Bowl would be a big opportunity for Kalafitoni Pole.
WSU generally, their players have performed well in those types of opportunities. I think he has a chance to do that as well and push himself into a possible draft selection.