SEATTLE – Cooper Kupp’s results are indisputably impressive.
But this is a story about a process – and a person – that made them possible.
Before he emerged as a standout wide receiver for the Los Angeles Rams, or a four-time FCS All-American at Eastern Washington, Kupp was an undersized and anonymous freshman trying to earn an occasional rep. The Yakima product redshirted his freshman season at Eastern in 2012, and after one supposedly impressive practice he presented a roll of film to the Eagles’ receivers coach.
“I had a pretty solid day out doing some one-on-one (drills). I had run some good routes and was getting open, making some good plays,” Kupp told The Times in a phone interview on Tuesday. “I was coming into it thinking I wanted to go through this with coach, thinking I could show him I could play.
“I walked in there to show him this cut-up, and he just tore it apart.”
“He,” in this case, was fourth-year Eastern wide receivers coach Junior Adams – who is embarking on his first season in the same position at UW.
And seven years later, his larger lesson still applies.
“It wasn’t about winning the route. It was about doing it the right way,” Kupp said. “(Adams) lives in the world of being process-driven over results-driven. It’s not about just getting open and making a play and scoring a touchdown. To be consistent, you have to have the process down and do that over and over and over again.
“He’s going to make sure you have the tools to do that. I think that’s one of the biggest things that I’ve learned from him, just that the result isn’t always as important as the way you got there.”
First, about the results: After surviving his redshirt season, Kupp promptly broke 15 FCS, 11 Big Sky Conference and 26 Eastern Washington records in 52 career games. He piled up 428 catches, 6,464 receiving yards and 73 touchdown grabs along the way. After being selected in the third round of the 2017 NFL draft, he rewarded the Rams with 62 catches, 869 receiving yards and five touchdowns in his rookie season. Kupp added 40 catches, 566 receiving yards and six more scores in eight games before succumbing to a torn ACL last fall.
That’s all great. But how did he get there?
That story starts before Kupp was born. His grandfather, Jake Kupp, was an NFL offensive lineman from 1964 to 1975. Cooper’s father, Craig, starred as a tight end at Pacific Lutheran University and also played two years in the NFL. Craig’s wife and Cooper’s mother, Karin, played soccer at PLU and her father – Tom Gilmer – is a member of the PLU Hall of Fame as a quarterback and punter.
It stands to reason, then, that Cooper would be blessed with some astonishing genetic gifts – that the college recruiters would come and the results would inevitably follow.
Instead, he received two scholarship offers – from Idaho State and Eastern Washington.
As a freshman at Davis High in 2008, he was 5-foot-4 and 119 pounds – and that’s while wearing ankle weights. Rivals and 247Sports both ranked him – without so much as a profile picture – as a zero-star recruit.
“I wasn’t very fast or strong,” said Kupp, who has since sprouted to 6-2 and 208 pounds. “I didn’t really have anything crazy that flashed, I guess. I just loved football and I knew how to play it well. But athletically, there wasn’t a whole lot there.”
Adams was one of the few who disagreed. In 2013, he told The Spokesman-Review that “people thought he wasn’t fast enough. But you look at his film and you see him separating from guys. His work ethic is phenomenal, and he has excellent hands.”
In the end, Adams saw something when no one else did – and not just during the recruiting process.
“As hard as he can be on you, I think he sees more in people than they see in themselves a lot of the time,” Kupp said. “I think he sees the best in people as well, and he wants to bring that out. He definitely pushed me and really forced me to accept the fact that I could be greater than what my own thoughts were.
“I really credit a lot of my mindset and the way that I’ve gone about my whole career – the mindset I’ve taken into my training, into my preparation – I credit a lot of that to coach Adams.”
Kupp carried that mindset forward even after Adams left Eastern Washington for Boise State following his redshirt freshman season. Besides, in another way, Adams never actually left. Eastern’s next wide receivers coach, current Cal running backs coach Nick Edwards, played for Adams at EWU. And Kupp’s wide receivers coach with the Rams, Eric Yarber, actually coached Adams at Oregon State.
The names have changed, and the jerseys have changed, but Kupp’s coaching has been almost improbably consistent.
“I really think coach Yarber, coach Adams, coach Edwards – in my mind, they are the exact same people and same coaches,” Kupp said. “In that way I’ve been really blessed.”
From Kupp’s perspective, at least, the Husky wide receivers are about to be blessed as well.
“Shoot, I think the biggest thing is there was no point where he let you settle for anything less than what he saw as your greatest potential,” Kupp said. “He did such a good job of making sure that he held everyone to that.”
But what is the greatest potential for Washington’s wide receivers? That may be a confounding question, considering that no Husky wideout recorded more than 58 catches, 874 receiving yards and six touchdowns in 2018. The good news is that all seven wide receivers that caught a pass last season – Aaron Fuller, Andre Baccellia, Ty Jones, Chico McClatcher, Quinten Pounds, Jordan Chin and Alex Cook (who has since converted to safety) – are expected to be back this fall.
The Huskies also have many promising wide receivers who have yet to catch a collegiate pass – namely sophomore Terrell Bynum, redshirt freshmen Austin Osborne, Marquis Spiker and Trey Lowe and true freshmen Puka Nacua and Taj Davis.
In other words, Adams has plenty of putty to work with. But before he can see the results, he first must instill the process.
“I think Junior’s fitting in here great,” UW head coach Chris Petersen said this spring. “I think the receivers … those guys are learning to figure each other’s style out. I think he’s been a nice addition, and those guys are really feeling what he’s all about.”
If they’re anything like Kupp, “feeling what he’s all about” might include some ego-bruising but ultimately beneficial film sessions. Adams, Kupp said, is “one of the most technically sound coaches I’ve had.”
But he also raises the bar in two other areas: expectations, and energy.
“(Departed UW wide receivers coach Matt) Lubick was awesome, but coach Junior Adams just brings a different energy. He riles us up, gets us going, makes it a lot more fun atmosphere,” sophomore wide receiver Terrell Bynum said this spring. “It changes the game totally. It just makes us play faster. We’re not thinking too much.
“We’re trying to compete more than just get the plays right. We’re just actually trying to beat the guy across from us.”
That will certainly be the goal on Aug. 31, when UW appropriately opens its 2019 season against Eastern Washington. Seven years after sharing a wide receivers room with the Eagles, Kupp and Adams have ascended to new heights. But they haven’t reached their peak – or, to quote Kupp, their “greatest potential.”
So they’ll keep working, inspiring and improving, until the process is complete.
“I really believe that one day he’s going to coach at the highest level,” Kupp said of Adams. “He’s that talented. He’s that good. He’s that knowledgeable. I know the direction that his career is going.”
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