PULLMAN – Because he was a year older than Xavier Cooper and the younger brother of a hometown NFL star, Desmond Trufant received most of the attention during his career at Tacoma’s Wilson High School.
Still, Cooper said, he was getting calls from the same schools as Trufant, who eventually chose Washington and is a starting cornerback for the Huskies as a senior this season.
But something on Cooper’s end always prevented those conversations from getting all that serious.
“I had everybody he had – Cal, Oregon, everybody,” Cooper said. “But as soon as they looked at my transcripts, it was a no-no.”
So Cooper, now a redshirt freshman defensive tackle working his way into the Cougars’ D-line rotation, had to be patient. First, he grayshirted, delaying his enrollment for a year to get his academics in order.
It wasn’t always easy, but he credits his family for keeping him focused on the end goal.
“I want to give all the credit in the world to my mom and my dad and my nephew Marcus, because without them I wouldn’t be here,” Cooper said. “They always told me just keep my head up and one day it’s going to come, and you’re going to be on that field and you’re going to get everything you deserve. You’ve just got to keep working harder than the next man.”
Cooper did make it to Pullman and enrolled in classes as a freshman last season, but was ruled a partial qualifier by the NCAA. That meant he could receive financial aid and practice with the team, though he was ineligible to play.
He remained grateful all the while, remembering how hard it was to watch school after school pass on him because of his grades.
“I made some mistakes in high school not doing what I needed to do in class,” Cooper said. “Luckily, I got in here. I’m so glad Washington State gave me this chance to come play football.”
Former receivers coach Mike Levenseller told him to relax, focus on the weight room and worry about what he could control.
It’s seemed to work out well enough. Cooper has eight tackles – four for loss, including a sack – in three games for the Cougars this season. And at 6-foot-4, 298 pounds, his blend of size and speed could be just what WSU needs to bolster its defensive front.
“It’s like the Temptations,” defensive line coach Joe Salave’a said. “When you get everybody back up and everybody hits their notes, it sounds good. We’re excited and he’s got to work himself back into it.”
“The grayshirt, it was a blessing in disguise because I feel like now I’m bigger, I’m faster, I’m stronger,” Cooper said. “And I feel like if I would have came in here and competed straight out of high school, I don’t think I would have been all the way (ready) physically and mentally. It’s a blessing and I respect all the coaches that gave me the chance to come play ball at Washington State, because it is a privilege.”
So when Cooper was sidelined in camp with an ankle injury, he took it in stride. Cooper spent a couple of weeks in a walking boot after impressing coaches in the spring and early in camp, but said he didn’t get too discouraged by not being able to practice.
“That’s just the struggles of football,” Cooper said. “You’ve got to fight through that and get back. I just want to help this team win and win big.”
Defensive coordinator Mike Breske said Cooper probably helps the team more in the run game at this point than he does as a pass rusher, though Salave’a hopes he can count on him to do both.
“He’s becoming more comfortable in what we’re asking him to do and he’s a physical presence,” Breske said. “We needed him back and we got him, and we’re glad he’s back.”