LEWISTON – There may just be one subdivision of college football players who weren’t so thrilled to learn about the new NCAA rule that affords redshirts the opportunity to play in up to four games without burning a year of eligibility.
The ones who missed out on it by a year.
Fortunately, Cammon Cooper is part of the other group.
The NCAA found itself in unfamiliar territory this June when coaches, players and fans unanimously applauded the new legislation, which seems to be advantageous for just about everyone involved. Again, minus those players who could’ve benefited from it a year ago.
As Washington State fans began to line up the scenarios, it’s no surprise their thoughts immediately turned to the highly acclaimed quarterback from Lehi, Utah, who Mike Leach had signed almost six months earlier.
Rest assured, they weren’t the only ones juiced about the possibilities.
“That was huge,” said Cooper, who enrolled in January and participated in spring drills with the Cougars. “Knowing that if that does happen, knowing I could just always be ready to go in any four games throughout the season. Knowing I could go in and help the team out when I need to.”
Of course, Cooper didn’t come to Pullman with the expectation of playing in just a third of WSU’s games this season. The Cougars’ quarterback competition was wide open, Cooper was the highest-ranked passer Leach had signed in five years, and if his intentions weren’t already clear, the 6-foot-4 southpaw fast-tracked his senior year of high school just so he could move to Pullman in January and spend five more months living and breathing the Air Raid offense.
“I could not have imagined being here right now if I showed up, like, two months ago,” Cooper said Monday, on the heels of the Cougars’ fourth fall practice. “It was big, being there for spring ball and getting to know the guys and the offense and everything.”
But despite his head start and lofty ceiling – “maybe the biggest eventual talent of the (QB) group,” Leach said of his freshman last Thursday – Cooper still appears to be on the outside looking in when it comes to the Cougars’ QB race. The reality is that he’s up against a pair of redshirt juniors, Trey Tinsley and Anthony Gordon, who’ve spent two years with Leach’s playbook and a graduate transfer, Gardner Minshew, who’s already completed 293 passes at the FBS level.
Leach is highlighting two quarterbacks per practice this fall. It’s the most efficient way to squeeze the most reps out of his passers, while still evaluating all four at the same time. Tinsley’s been featured in three practices, while Gordon and Minshew have each been featured twice. Cooper didn’t get his first turn until Monday.
But even if the freshman can’t rise to the top of the depth chart before Sept. 1, there’s still a silver lining – one that didn’t exist for players in his position last year. In the inaugural year of the NCAA’s new redshirt rule, Cooper could be one of the guinea pigs.
“Well, we’ll see. We’ll see what happens,” Leach said. “I think it’s a good rule. I’ve always thought the better way to do it was just five years of eligibility, but nevertheless, I think this is a good approach. It’s headed in the right direction.”
Injury, of course, would be one reason to pull Cooper off the bench during his redshirt year.
Another reason? Nine of WSU’s 13 games in 2017 were decided by at least 21 points, and five were decided by 28 or more. Even if he isn’t deciding the outcome, Cooper could benefit from getting acclimated with Martin Stadium on game day, or any number of Pac-12 venues that could host him as the Cougars’ starter in the years to come.
Oh, and if Cooper does ever find himself in a position to attack the school passing records set by the Cougars’ previous Utah-born quarterback, a four-game head start wouldn’t do any harm. Granted, that’s still a distant thought for a rookie still plugging through his first camp as an Air Raid QB.
Cooper’s first day in the skeleton/11-on-11 rotation came with mixed results. The freshman was critical of himself – “I feel like it could’ve gone better, that’s for sure,” Cooper said – but also gleaned a few positives from the day.
“I felt like I was getting the plays in,” he said. “My tempo was a lot faster.”
Cooper said he was pleasantly surprised by the warmth the other quarterbacks showed him since he arrived in January. He didn’t expect hostility, per se, but he also didn’t anticipate that his fellow passers would be eager to bring the highlytouted freshman up to speed, in fear it would help him to close the gap.
“I had a way different expectation of how it’d be when I showed up, but they’ve been great with helping me get everything down,” Cooper said. “… I felt like they’d kind of shoo me away, but it was total opposite, so that’s good.”
They just might have to share the field with him – if only for four games.