In every collegiate sport, there is one common denominator. The seniors and juniors have the accolades, the women, the trust and respect from teammates and coaches along with the opportunity to go pro and make millions. The sophomores, though they are young, have a year of experience under their belt. They get the chance to see the field more and showcase their skills to the team and in front of a national audience. Upperclassmen and second-year players are important because they are the leaders, enforcers and coaches on the field. They show a lot of emotion, passion and a drive to win. Though they are the heart and soul of the team, let’s be honest, in college football everyone wants to build toward the future. In order to accomplish this, coaches need to recruit freshmen and talented freshmen at that. I mentioned earlier that seniors and juniors are the heart and soul of the team, but when they move on who will step up?
For most freshmen, year one is surveillance only. They transition from superstardom in high school to getting the feel of a new environment. The duties for freshmen, especially in college football, are to be studious in the classroom, get well acquainted with the playbook and study their teammates as well as the coaching staff. Freshmen desire to see the field and play at the collegiate level. The aspiration to play on the big stage under the bright lights is the soundtrack that plays over and over in their minds from pee-wee and elementary school to high school football. Of all the hip-hop/rap anthems we have heard, the one that resonates the best with this piece came on June 29, 2012.
Tyree Cinque Simmons, better known as DJ Drama, is a well-known rapper and producer. If I had to attribute one more thing to DJ Drama it would be that he knows how find talented artists to collaborate on songs with him. His song “My Moment,” which featured Meek Mill, 2 Chains and Jeremih was not only a chart-topping, catchy hit song, but it also motivated the youth of today to go out and be productive knowing that when you get your big break you must capitalize on it. Every second on the field is precious and while most freshmen would be cool with just sitting back and waiting for their time to shine, Alabama’s receiver Amari Cooper couldn’t wait anymore.
The one thing that has kept Alabama thriving outside of powerful running backs and aggressive linebackers is recruiting talented wide receivers. In the early 2000s, Freddie Millions, DJ Hall, Keith Brown and Tyrone Prothro were among the best receivers to play for Alabama. When the mid-2000s rolled around, Alabama was highly favored in the recruiting pool and they were able to snatch up Marquis Maze, Darius Hanks and Julio Jones. Last season provided no drop-off, as the recruiting power of the Crimson Tide became more prominent and they pick up Kenny Bell, Kevin Norwood, Christion Jones, DeAndrew White and others. The thing about receivers is they have to be ready at all times because you don’t know what can happen at any given moment. Case in point for Alabama was last season.
Amari Cooper was a star in high school. He attended and played football for Miami Northwestern High School (Miami, Fla.) In his junior and senior year, catching passes from fellow teammate (now Louisville QB) Teddy Bridgewater, Cooper became a human highlight reel. He was Bridgewater’s primary target junior year, as he caught 16 passes for 175 yards and four touchdowns. The success parlayed into his senior year, as he had 33 receptions for 722 yards. He was considered as one of the best receivers in his 2012 recruiting class and Rivals.com ranked him as the sixth best receiver. What Cooper didn’t know, was that another gifted receiver came out of his recruiting class. Chris Black was perceived by many, especially at Alabama, to be the best thing since Julio Jones. He had tremendous top speed that could take the top off a defense, he had great hands and not only was he great at receiver, but he was an exceptional return man. For Black, his moment to play in the 2013 regular season was ruin by a shoulder injury in summer camp. Though he worked hard and rehabbed his way back, it was not enough and he was forced to redshirt. The fact that Alabama was down one receiver still did not grant Cooper certainty to play. The Crimson Tide still had three talented receivers: the two deep threats Kenny Bell and DeAndrew White and the chain mover Kevin Norwood. Alabama even managed to work in Christion Jones in some situations.
In life, you are prepared to recognize three things: winning, losing and stepping up to the plate. It is when you least expected it that the time for you to emerge comes. All eyes will be on you and the team is counting on you to not be scared, but to put on your grown man pants and make something good happen. For Amari Cooper, the moment came in the fifth game of the season last year. On Sat. Sept. 29, 2012, Alabama welcomed head coach Hugh Freeze and the Mississippi Rebels to title town. In a tough and grimy game, Mississippi competed with Alabama. They went stride for stride with the defending national champions and in the third quarter it happened. In the middle of the third quarter, after receiving a pass from AJ McCarron, DeAndrew White gets hammered by a defensive back and tears his ACL. At that moment, coach Saban looked at his bench and directly into the eyes of his two redshirt freshmen receivers, Chris Black and Amari Cooper. Saban decided to take the redshirt off Cooper and see what he could do. For most freshmen, their prayer is “Lord, just help me get on the field.” Cooper’s prayer was “Lord, now that I’m on the field, help me to dominate and become a starter.” Cooper’s prayer was answered and against Mississippi he emerged and put on a show. In just one game, the young man from Miami, FL went from being a wide-eyed freshman to showing the nation and Alabama fans why he could the best thing since Julio Jones. AJ McCarron connected with Cooper eight times for 84 yards and two touchdowns. Cooper did more than just break out; he helped Alabama put away Ole Miss, as the Tide rolled 33-14. To prove that the Ole Miss game was not a fluke, Cooper took his talents to Neyland Stadium (Rocky Top) in Knoxville, Tenn. Two weeks later in Rocky Top, Cooper dismantled the Volunteers secondary. He caught seven passes for 162 yards and two touchdowns and the Tide bounced Tennessee 44-13. The madness didn’t stop there; Cooper amassed over 100 yards receiving three weeks later against Texas A&M. He had six receptions for 136 yards and a touchdown that closed the gap on A&M, but external factors kept the Tide from winning.
After losing to A&M, Alabama needed to put a ferocious beating on Auburn if they wanted to get back into the national title conversation last season. Amari Cooper was a pivotal factor in that game. The Crimson Tide welcomed Auburn into Bryant-Denny Stadium as Tigers, but they left as tiger bait. Cooper had five receptions for 109 yards and 2 touchdowns, including a touchdown where three Auburn players had him and failed to wrap up and make the tackle. Cooper was proving to Alabama fans and the SEC that Johnny Manziel was not the only freshmen who can make an impact. Cooper saved one of his finer performances for the SEC Championship. Against a star studded, NFL Draft Georgia defense, Cooper shined on national television. He had eight catches for 128 yards and a touchdown. Of the eight receptions Cooper had, two of them really impressed me. The first one was when McCarron slighted underthrew the football, Cooper had to turn back, locate and highpoint the football and take it away from Baccari Rambo who was trying to intercept it. The second reception that impressed me was the touchdown reception that sealed the game. With Georgia leading 28-25 late in the fourth quarter, AJ McCarron decided to dial up Amari Cooper on the fade route. The Bulldogs pressure was getting to McCarron and many thought that the play would end up in a sack and negative yardage.
Alabama’s receivers started to slow down and give up on the play, even Cooper began to break his speed some. What the receivers didn’t know was that McCarron avoided the rush and was able to get the ball airborne to Cooper. Like a stick shift, Cooper went from 5th gear, to 3rd gear and revved back up to 5th gear to speed by the cornerback and make the catch for the touchdown. Alabama won the game 32-28 and claimed its 23rd SEC title because of Cooper’s performance. Even the BCS National Championship stage against Notre Dame wasn’t too nerve-wrecking for Cooper. The Irish defense that was ranked No.1 in the nation (allowing 10.3 points per game) couldn’t stop him. Cooper took the top off the Irish secondary, as he caught six passes for 105 yards and two touchdowns. In one year, Amari Cooper went from waiting on my moment to taking my moment as a freshman. His performance against Notre Dame helped Alabama win back-to-back national titles (15th BCS title) and gave his QB AJ McCarron his second national title as the starting QB.
With a healthy and deadly receiving core returning for Alabama in this upcoming season, there will be high expectations for the Tide to go for the 3-peat. The one receiver that every coach, fan, critic and player will have their eyes on is Amari Cooper. He has proven that as a freshman he can lead a receiving core, but the numbers listed are just small accomplishments for Cooper. Here is what Amari Cooper did in the 2012 college football season that made him special.
AMARI COOPER’S STATISTICS FROM 2012
1. 100-yard Receiving Performances
a. Amari Cooper had four regular season conference games in which amassed over l00 yards receiving (Tennessee: 162 yards, Texas A&M: 136 yards, Auburn: 109 yards and Georgia: 128 yards)
b. He ended the 2013 regular season with 59 receptions for 1,000 yards
2. Touchdown Receptions
a. Cooper had 11 TD receptions in 2013 and six of them were against tough SEC competition. (Arkansas: 1 TD, Ole Miss: 2 TD’s, Tennessee: 2 TD’s, Auburn: 2 TD’s, Texas A&M: 1 TD, Georgia: 2 TD’s and Notre Dame: 2 TD’s)
b. The six touchdowns against tough SEC competition were Georgia, Tennessee and Auburn
3. Yards Per Catch (Average)
a. Cooper had four games in which he average 20+ yards per catch (Arkansas: 23.0, Tennessee: 23.1, Texas A&M: 22.7 and Auburn: 21.8)