This story first appeared in the CWU Observer

Senior running back Cedric Cooper is proving to be one of the most elite players in the entire GNAC this season.

His 800 total yards are second in the conference, making him an early candidate for GNAC offensive MVP.

Just two years ago, Cooper was debating whether it was time to hang up the cleats.

“There were times where I thought I might not ever play again,” Cooper said. “I had to take a year off, I didn’t know if I could make it back.”

Several times during his college football journey, Cooper has had to take entire years off in order to make money to support himself.

From a young age, Cooper had to move around a lot because of his dad’s military position. Cooper played high school football in South Carolina, then at Tacoma-based Foster before wrapping up his high school experience playing for Skyline High School.

It was at Skyline where he won a state title and finally broke into the spotlight. He would play on national ESPN broadcasts multiple times.

Former USC quarterback and teammate at Skyline, Max Browne, gave his thoughts on Cooper’s playing ability.

“He was as good of a jump cutter as I ever played with,” Browne said. “He came in and showed how special of a player he was and is today. He definitely was an extra lift in our running game.”

Browne added that Cooper was a tremendous presence behind the scenes. His ability to adapt to the Skyline locker room is as impressive as anything he has done on the field.

After graduating high school, Cooper had no offers. This meant that if he wanted to pursue his football dreams, it would have to be as a walk-on.

Knowing that he wasn’t going to get any full rides, Cooper decided to start out playing for one of the most prestigious junior college (JuCo) football programs in the nation: Arizona Western.

It’s a JuCo that historically is known for making the playoffs, having missed them just once in the past 10 years. Additionally, the school has sent 33 players to the National Football League. For Cooper, this is exactly where he wanted to be in order to jump-start his career.

Cooper quickly realized it was going to be hard to move up the depth chart. The sheer talent on the Arizona Western roster made it difficult to receive reps.Combine that with needing to work a full time job to pay for school, and Cooper had no choice but to leave the football program.

After taking the rest of the year off, Cooper was looking forward to a fresh start on a new team. He got a referral from a former teammate to transfer to Santa Barbara College.

“He had played for the coaching staff before,” Cooper said. “I trusted him that it was a great fit and it ended up being just that.”

Cooper had a breakout freshman season playing for Santa Barbara. He won offensive MVP after leading the conference in rushing yards and touchdowns.

But once again, financial issues would come into play. Cooper would have to take another year off to pay for school.

Cooper expressed that every time he would take one of those “gap” years, he would think about whether or not he should return to football. Working a full time job in Tacoma, over one thousand miles away from his team, it was tempting for Cooper to start a new life.

Cooper did eventually save up enough money, and he returned to Santa Barbara for his sophomore year.

His numbers improved, as he ran for 781 yards and 11 touchdowns, which caught the eye of several top Division II schools.

CWU Football head coach Ian Shoemaker recalled recruiting him hard following his breakout performance at Santa Barbara.

“We actually met him at Santa Barbara,” Shoemaker said. “We knew about him and we were trying to bring him home.”

Shoemaker would end up missing out on Cooper that year, as Cooper announced his commitment to Southwestern Oklahoma State on Dec. 18, 2016.

Cooper cites the financial help of Southwestern Oklahoma State as the biggest reason why he chose them over CWU at the time.

He would have a very solid junior season playing in Oklahoma, rushing for 230 yards while also returning kicks.

Even though he was performing well on the field, Cooper was starting to become homesick off the field. He was playing in a tiny town about 130 miles east of Oklahoma City and it didn’t quite feel right to him.

It wasn’t until the Southwest Oklahoma State head coach was fired that he knew it was time to get out. This led to Cooper emailing head coach Ian Shoemaker to see if he could join CWU for the 2018 season.

Shoemaker met Cooper with open arms, offering him a scholarship and a chance to compete for playing time.

“He’s a really multidimensional back,” Shoemaker said. “After spring ball, we thought he could be our number one guy.”

A big part of Cooper’s story is his underdog status everywhere he’s played. CWU is actually the seventh team he’s played on in the past nine years.

“It’s the theme of my life,” Cooper said. “Just putting my head down and working, not talking, just working for my spot.”

Whether it’s CWU, Southwestern Oklahoma State, Santa Barbara College, Arizona Western College, Skyline, Foster or South Carolina, Cooper has made a phenomenal impact everywhere he’s gone.

At the pace he’s on, Cooper is projected to rack up over 1100 yards to go along with 10 or more touchdowns on the season. He’ll also be a front runner for GNAC MVP honors.

With CWU climbing up the national rankings (now at #21), Cooper hopes to continue to be a big part of the puzzle going forward.