A former Eastern Washington University football player … check.
A Los Angeles Ram for a spell … check.
A Kupp … check again.
It all equaled a surreal last few weeks for Ketner Kupp, the younger brother of America’s newest sports hero, Cooper Kupp.
Ketner was there with his family for two of the most momentous performances in his brother’s career – a 20-17 victory over San Francisco in the NFC Championship game, and then two weeks later when Los Angeles edged Cincinnati 23-20 in Super Bowl 56.
“Unbelievable really,” Ketner says as he looks back on his older brother’s gradual rise to NFL record breaker, then sudden rise to NFL icon. “Believable, but unbelievable.”
After concluding his own honor-filled career at EWU at the FCS Championship game in January 2019, Ketner spent five months as a Ram, so he had more than a casual interest in how Los Angeles has progressed in subsequent seasons. But his brother was the obvious focal point.
“The fun part about it besides seeing Cooper do so well, was there are so many guys on that team I got to know. So I was excited for them all.”
Ketner was signed by the Rams on May 15, 2019, and Cooper was present at the signing, which was headlined by the Rams as a “Kupple of brothers living the dream.” Ketner was released on August 30, 2019, but he played in all four preseason games for the Rams and finished with 18 total tackles.
“It would have been just crazy,” Ketner relates now if he had stuck with the team.
During his last preseason game against the Houston Texans, Ketner had 11 total tackles, giving him hope to make the team. But he was released and left with memories and a significant memento, courtesy of his brother.
“That ended up being the last game of my football career, so it was good to go out on a high note for sure,” Ketner said. “I had an interception in the first half, but it was called back, so I can laugh about that now. But Cooper actually grabbed the ball I intercepted for me and it’s in my house.”
Cooper was able to free himself from the Rams to watch his brother play for EWU on two occasions, but never with the flair Ketner had at the Super Bowl. He sported a shirt of a photo of his brother uncharacteristically celebrating two weeks earlier in the win over the 49ers.
“No, I didn’t actually,” Ketner said when asked if he ever imagined wearing a photo of his brother on his chest. “But it was really fun – it’s just kind of surreal. It was being goofy, and the entire suite had Cooper stuff on.”
The photo was iconic to the family. After catching a third-and-18 pass and turning it into a first down during the Rams’ game-winning drive versus San Francisco, Cooper didn’t simply get up and toss the ball to an official like he normally does. Instead, he stood straight up, clenched his fists at his side, lifted his chest high and looked up to the heavens and yelled.
The image was right on Ketner’s chest for all to see.
“It was super funny to see him react that way,” said Ketner. “I heard my dad say, ‘he never does that.’ Somebody got a good picture of it because that was what we went with for the shirt.”
A large group of family and friends were on hand for the Super Bowl, and some of them were even able to watch from a suite that Cooper had helped arrange, along with his wife, Anna.
Ketner and Cooper’s parents, Craig and Karin, were both there, as well as their siblings, including Katrina Kupp, who now plays soccer at Eastern. Grandparents on their father’s side, Jake and Carla Kupp, were there. Both Jake and Craig have had experience playing in the NFL, but never the Super Bowl.
Karin’s mother was also at the game, but her father Tom Gilmer – a legendary high school coach in Washington – couldn’t make the trip. Ketner said Tom was missed but knows he was just as proud of his grandson for not only the winning plays and records this season, but for his character.
“Every time I talk to Grandpa Gilmer, he always talks about how professional and humble Cooper has been through the whole thing. I’m not saying we can’t believe it because everyone knows how special Cooper is, but it’s amazing to see how big he’s gotten. But he’s still just Cooper, and the way he talks and acts you can tell nothing has changed. Everybody is proud of him for that.”
The whole world watched on Feb. 13 as Cooper caught the go-ahead touchdown pass – and made four-other key plays – during a game-winning drive in the waning minutes of the win over the Bengals.
A 2015 graduate of Davis High School in Yakima – three years after Cooper – Ketner finished with 267 tackles in his career in 2015-18 to rank 14th all-time at EWU. Ketner is now a linebackers coach at Pacific Lutheran University in the Tacoma area, where his parents and grandpa Tom are all in the school’s Hall of Fame (Karin for soccer; Craig and Tom for football). Ketner is also working part-time with another former Eagle, Josh Lewis, in the insurance industry.
Married to former Eagle soccer player M’Kenna Hayes, he stays mostly busy raising twin daughters Kaia James and Sienna Grace, born last October.
“It’s been awesome – I’m enjoying getting my football fix in,” he said of his position at PLU. “We’re getting more sleep all the time, so we’ll take that. These are our first children so we don’t know any different. We’re just rolling with the punches.”
Supporting his brother comes easy; after all, his brother was there for him, too, when he played.
The EWU-Montana State game in Bozeman in 2018 saw the secret arrival of Cooper, coming off a nine-catch, 162-yard performance the Thursday before for the Rams. His wife, Anna, and their newborn son, Cooper Jr. (“June” as he would become known) came to the pressbox postgame – not for an interview, but to change June’s diaper in the EWU coaches booth.
Twice in Cooper’s career his Eastern teams came one victory from advancing to the FCS Championship game, but it was in Ketner’s senior season in 2018 they finally made it back to Frisco, Texas, where EWU won the national title in 2010.
Again, under the radar, Cooper, Anna and June made the trip – with Cooper still a little gimpy after a season-ending knee injury a couple of months early.
So without hesitation, Ketner and M’Kenna loaded up the twins both times and headed to Los Angeles to support and watch Cooper in the two most momentous games of his career.
The twins came to the 49ers game, but Ketner said for the Super Bowl, there would be no surreal moments for them.
“They were charging per heartbeat, so that would have been pretty expensive for a non-memory on their end,” Ketner laughed.
Dave Cook spent 35 years as a college Sports Information Director, first at Eastern Washington University, then at Idaho and then back for his final 30 at EWU. A life-long Washingtonian, his love for all things athletics, music, reading and running in the region are topped only by his penchant for writing what he terms as “more than anyone could ever need or care to know.”
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