Cooper Kupp isn’t perfect.
Last weekend at Cal Poly, he dropped a sure touchdown pass (but still managed to catch another and throw two more).
His grade-point average at Eastern Washington is well below a 4.0 (but he’s hanging in there at 3.62 while majoring in finance with a minor in business administration).
Then there’s that beard, an on-again, off-again mass of dirty blond whiskers that draws a skeptical shake of the head from Beau Baldwin, his coach for almost five seasons in Cheney.
And what years they’ve been for Kupp, his family, friends and everyone else who follows football at Eastern Washington.
The redshirt senior from Yakima holds almost every major receiving record in Division I while helping the Eagles win two Big Sky Conference titles and perhaps a third. Kupp has 389 catches for 5,924 yards and 68 receiving touchdowns going into Saturday’s Senior Day game against Idaho State.
“I’d be shocked if you could show me a better receiver at any level in the country,” Baldwin said.
However, Kupp’s legacy at Eastern Washington won’t be measured by yards, but by friendships.
In the last four years, Kupp has combined the best of both worlds, leaping high for a pass but staying grounded in life. Getting separation on the field, yet forging ties in Cheney that will last a lifetime.
“There have been so many great people, the relations with the coaches, the professors, the people we’ve gotten very close to,” said Kupp, who speaks in first-person plural since his marriage to Anna Croskrey in June 2015.
“School is great, but it’s the relationships that have made it special for us,” Kupp said.
And for others, it seems. Every fall at the house of a friend, the Kupps hold a barbecue for freshman football players. It has little to do with football, and the nourishment is as much for the soul as the body.
Warming to the subject, Kupp is struck by the expectations that incoming freshmen face on every college campus: the expectation to drink and party.
“The empty side of life,” Kupp calls it.
“These freshmen are instantly hit with the idea that this is what college is supposed to be about,” Kupp said. That’s one reason we came back: to have an influence on young adults in a very important time in their lives.”
Sports has helped Kupp spread that message.
“It’s God’s confirmation of the different relationships we’ve been able to build … Seeing that growth in the last five years has been great,” Kupp said. “When you see the way God impacts lives, it makes it a lot easier.”
That was just one reason the Kupps decided to stay another year and defer Cooper’s plans to play in the NFL. That decision was less about dollars and cents than unfinished business – athletic, academic and spiritual.
The Kupps consulted with family, friends and experts, then prayed and fasted. “Once we knew what the decision was, it was really easy and there was never any second-guessing.”
A season to remember
As usual, football season began for the Kupps with voluntary summer workouts – and a special houseguest.
Kupp’s younger brother, Ketner, was coming off a freshman year in the EWU dorms and needed some help transitioning to independent life. Cooper was happy to perform his due diligence.
“We had to have some conversations – about finances, cleaning up the dishes, eating the right food and not leaving the toilet seat up,” Cooper said as recalled one more reason to stay another year.
“I love my brother, and it’s been a blessing to play with him,” Kupp said.
Once the season began, Anna has been ever-present. A former heptathlete at Arkansas and EWU, she knows first-hand the sacrifices of a student-athlete.
“It’s not so much playing the games on the field but the dedication off the field and in the video room and the weight room,” Anna said.
“That’s something we can share and something that makes our marriage so strong, because I know what he strives for.”
The payoff for Anna? Now she understands the Cover 2.
She also understands the risk of injury, but she’s calm in the stands when the Eagles have the ball. Punt returns are another matter.
“I’m always praying for a fair catch,” she said. “But then I also want him to do well.”
The future’s so bright …
“It’s been a fun and a great, crazy ride,” Anna said of young married life and her life in the small town of Cheney.
But the ride is almost over.
Going into Saturday’s game, the Eagles are 8-1 and ranked third in the country. But the games are down to a handful, and the Kupps are finishing up their degrees and looking to the future.
A future somewhere else.
When the season is over, Kupp will hire an agent, participate in the NFL Combine and try to impress the scouts ahead of the NFL draft.
His stock is high, perhaps as high as the second round. In six months, the Kupps could be millionaires.
“Obviously, we have dreams about what we want in our lives,” Kupp said. “What’s our house going to look like, when are we going to start a family and of course the football side of things?
“A million dollars for me playing football for God is so much more than a million dollars or a billion dollars can ever mean.”
And when that crazy ride ends?
“He’ll be back,” Baldwin said. “He’ll be an Eagle for life.”