Currently he keeps in contact with his former pupil through social media. The lengthier discussions have probably occurred over the internet since the introverted Tide true freshman rarely spoke on the commute. “He doesn’t say ten words in a sentence,” said Rolle, a third cousin to Cooper. His exceptional performance on the field constitutes a chapter of memories for the Alabama faithful.
Redshirting is the normal path for a first-year player at an established program as Alabama. Not for the ambitious Amari Cooper. His mindset was to avoid “the long line” said Rolle.
“I wanted to be great and show everybody what I could do. I expected to have a 1200 yard season. Before I came here I felt like I belonged,” said Cooper with conviction sitting in the stands of the Sun Life Stadium on media day for the 2013 Discover BCS National Championship Game.
Nick Saban, anxious to welcome a top notch receiver to The Capstone, blessed the early enrollment of January 2012. Rolle was confident of a rapid career ascent but had a few doubts. “He had all the tools. I was just worried about his strength level and size to get off the line of scrimmage from defensive backs and would he be playing inside at the slot or outside,” said Rolle. Quickness, athleticism and take off skills were brought to Tuscaloosa.
Zone defense was the primary coverage which meant quick outs and comebacks were the favorite routes. “You actually saw more of his talents in practice than you did in the game when we used press coverage,” stated Rolle. Cooper would beg his coach to play in the secondary. Naturally, if an outstanding individual warranted his defensive presence, the all-around athlete (football, basketball, track) would be inserted as a shutdown corner on a specific receiver or as a safety to force the quarterback to throw to the outside.
A nagging high hamstring injury suffered as a sophomore during summer workouts running quarter mile sprints on the track against three upperclassmen now playing for Louisville (Michaelee Harris, Corvin Lamb and Eli Rogers) could not keep Cooper away from the field. The ferocious competitor won the race a few times causing the trio to push the youngster to keep up resulting in the mishap.
Cooper carved out a reputation as one of the best Pop Warner players in the city. A resident of the Coconut Grove area of Miami, he attended Coral Gables Senior High School as a freshman. According to Rolle, Cooper was demoted to the junior varsity after breaking a rule.
Instead of accepting reinstatement to the varsity upon completion of the junior varsity schedule, Cooper felt slighted and chose to move on to basketball and consider options. A transfer to Miami Northwester Senior High School was shepherded by Lorenzo Woodley, Jr. He was a Pop Warner mentor to Cooper and former player under Rolle at ironically Coral Gables Senior High School and running back at Pittsburgh in the early 1990’s. Even though Cooper’s mother, Michelle Green, was a second cousin, the accomplished prep coach Rolle, was not aware of her son’s exploits. Family connections and a recommendation by Woodley insured her a decision to change schools would prove beneficial.
Alabama’s final 2011 summer camp experience was a crucial moment in the recruitment process. Tide Assistant Coach Bobby Williams had known Rolle through the years and was responsible for inviting Cooper. Former Miami assistant, Jeff Stoutland, now on the Alabama staff as the offensive line coach also contributed to landing the South Florida product.
Cooper had attended the Hurricanes camp since his sophomore year. Rolle’s brother Zachary and offensive line coach Terrance Craig brought the contingent to Tuscaloosa. Camp instructor and All-Pro receiver Chris Carter was raving about three cornerback prospects.
“Amari just torched the three best defensive backs,” Rolle claims. The former All-Pro reversed his opinion and began singing the praises of the fleet-footed, elusive receiver from south Florida to Nick Saban.
“I saw a look in his (Carter) eyes when I got out there. I was running routes and doing cone drills,” recalled Cooper. “He started looking at me differently. I think he thought I was a real good receiver and I had a lot of potential.” Cooper did not have gaudy numbers coming out of high school – 33 receptions for 772 yards with nine touchdowns, five by returns but the talent was undeniable. “I would say Alabama treated him a little more special than the Florida schools,” said Rolle. “Alabama was able to eyeball him at camp.”
How do you attract a gifted receiver to a program flush with superb running backs and traditionally known for their rushing attack? You mention the school’s recent legendary pass catcher selected in the top-ten of the NFL Draft and the prospect in the same sentence. “Nick Saban kept saying Amari reminded him of Julio Jones and thought he could play early at Alabama,” said Rolle, a four-time state of Florida high school championship coach. Woodley and Rolle promoted the notion of performing on a big stage at Alabama which appealed to Cooper.
Since Cooper has achieved spectacular results this season in Tuscaloosa, college assistant coaches who devalued him due to the lack of superlative prep statistics have caught the wrath of their head coach.
Hot temperatures and demonstrative gridiron touchdown celebrations may be prevalent in Miami but their native son is poker face cool.
“What sets Amari apart is he has no fear. He will play the same way if there are 100,000 people or 1,000 in the stands,” declared Rolle. The composed freshman has deflected the external factors of packed stadiums, a national television audience and overwhelming attention. High school opponents would invariably talk smack thinking the derisive chatter would unnerve Cooper.
Just the opposite would occur. His silent assassin retaliation would consist of unleashing the 4.4 speed on the secondary. Embarrassment would ensue after spectacular receptions causing silent retreats to the huddle for those chirping cornerbacks. The player nicknamed “Hollywood” by his Tide teammates for outstanding performances shuns flamboyance. “No end zone dances. He might do a chest bump. He would always give the ball to the referee, come back to the sideline and get himself a seat,” said Rolle.
Every skill the three-sport athlete learned is incorporated into being a receiver but Rolle professes the most memorable play was not on offense. The Miami Northwestern Senior School coaching staff was frantically shouting and pointing from the sidelines for Cooper to locate a tall receiver, Herb Waters (Homestead HS, FL), currently at Miami, in the formation destined to run the slant or fade pattern down by the goal-line. A touchdown would have been scored if the quarterback just signaled for the ball. “At the last second when the ball was snapped he ran over and snatched the ball out of the air with one hand and ran one hundred and two yards for a touchdown,” said Rolle. He ran the wildcat formation occasionally. No matter the position, he could affect the outcome. He closed out a few games with interceptions.
The reticent Cooper is a star on the Crimson Tide football team with unlimited potential but if cast in a movie role he would have to be an action-hero with minimal dialogue. He has provided many thrills throughout the season leading the team with 26 explosive plays defined by 15-plus yards including 8 of his 9 touchdown receptions.
“He has tremendous ball skills and it is very apparent how fast he is,” said Tide receivers coach Mike Groh. “He is very instinctive and how he can affect a defensive back in the way he runs his routes. All those things combined make him a very dangerous player.” Cooper possesses a very high football IQ. Continued development is required to become an elite performer at the FBS level. He is concentrating on improving his blocking technique, learning schemes, understanding complex defenses, becoming a better route runner and advancing his knowledge of the game with intensive film study.
Cooper was encouraged at a young age to “work hard, never to be satisfied and always stay hungry” by the person who introduced him to football, Lorenzo Woodley, Jr. They remain close and workout to this day.
Mental preparation is a personal window to a player’s temperament. Generating hype is for others. “You put in all the work during the week. When it’s game time, it’s game time,” replied the even-keeled freshman. “You should know what you have to do and go out there and do it.”
Cooper prefers listening to the motivational music of rap artist J. Cole, visualizes making big plays and focuses on what he has to do to help his team to win. “He (Cole) motivates me to do the unimaginable,” said Cooper. The best moment thus far for the sensational freshman is “seeing how happy my teammates were when I caught that pass in the Georgia game for a touchdown. Everyone just ran to me and they were happy.” Cooper has continued the philosophy of silence is the best policy in response to verbally aggressive defensive backs. “I really don’t say anything during the games. I just try to make plays. I don’t talk.”
The 2013 Discover BCS National Championship Game to be held at Sun Life Stadium in Miami Gardens on Monday evening will be the first time for Cooper to perform in the venue. “It’s a great feeling to be playing the national championship at home,” he said. The player embracing the spotlight on the largest college football stage of the season acts if the evening is just another game.
“I guess there is a little bit of pressure but I’m not focused on that right now or the people watching me. I’m focused on what I have to do to help my team win the game and just play my role.” Most freshmen would be exuberant with the statistical production and accolades Cooper has achieved but for him success is a natural progression.
“I’m not surprised by it at all. I think coming out of high school every player should at least be thinking they could contribute to the team their first year,” said the confident receiver. “No one wants to waste a year. I came in with expectations of having a great year. It’s another game and another opportunity to prove myself.
So far Amari Cooper has met his own expectations. For the Alabama faithful he has exceeded them.