Cooper Kupp came tantalizingly close to reaching his college Super Bowl.
A berth to the 2016 FCS national title game was ripped from the Eastern Washington star’s trusty hands when Youngstown State scored the go-ahead touchdown in the closing seconds of a chilly semifinal in Cheney.
Kupp, a second-year receiver with the Los Angeles Rams, won’t get to suit up for the biggest football game on Earth, either, the product of a season-ending knee injury he sustained in November.
When the Rams face the New England Patriots in Super Bowl LIII on Sunday in Atlanta, Kupp will take in the spectacle from the sideline – just as he had to do last month when he watched his alma mater, led by his brother, linebacker Ketner Kupp, fall just short in the FCS title game in Frisco, Texas.
It’s a cruel circumstance for one the most productive young receivers in the National Football League.
“Just as a competitor you want to be part of something like this, obviously,” Kupp told the Los Angeles Times this week. “Going back to the first time, your first dreams of playing in the NFL, you don’t just dream of playing in the NFL. You dream of playing in the Super Bowl.
“In one part of me, it’s the most excited I’ve ever been for a group of guys that has meant so much to me. And another part is frustrated that I won’t be part of it as well.”
The Yakima native was an integral part of the Rams’ offense, hauling in 40 passes for 566 yards and six touchdowns in eight games. Last season, Kupp set a Rams rookie receiving record with 62 receptions for 869 yards and five touchdowns.
Kupp has tried to avoid the Super Bowl media frenzy this week, according to reports, and hadn’t spoken to reporters during his rehab process.
“Not being a player that is in the game, or will be stepping on the field on Sunday, I felt like anything that I would be doing at those media events would be more about me than it would be about the team,” Kupp told the Times.
Kupp, a third-round draft pick in 2017, told the newspaper he hasn’t any setbacks in his recovery from a torn ACL.
“Cooper’s (injury) was pretty straight forward,” Kupp’s doctor told the Times. “But any time you go through an ACL tear like that … Everyone thinks 100 percent of these guys come back and it’s really, quite frankly, not the case.”
Kupp posted a video to his Instagram account earlier this week of him pushing upfield with a resistance band with the caption: “Small wins lead to big victories!”
Kupp’s teammates said they miss his sure hands, crisp routes and downfield blocks.
“If we had Cooper Kupp, it’s like having a cheat code,” Rams running back Todd Gurley told a group of reporters this week. “It’s like we’d be unstoppable.”
“Anytime you lose a player of Cooper’s caliber and what he’s meant to our offense, you don’t replace guys like that,” Rams head coach Sean McVay said.
Rams quarterback Jared Goff completed 69 percent of his passes with Kupp in the lineup. Since Kupp’s injury, Goff is completing 60 percent.
Kupp showed his potential All-Pro talent in Week 4 when he caught a career-high nine passes for 162 yards and two touchdowns in a 38-31 win over the Minnesota Vikings.
Two days later, Kupp was in Bozeman, watching his brother face Montana State.
“We’ve got to get (Kupp) a ring,” Rams receiver Robert Woods said.
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