Stephen Cooper (American football)

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Stephen Cooper
Stephen Cooper (American football).JPG
Free agent
Linebacker
Personal information
Date of birth: (1979-06-19) June 19, 1979 (age 35)
Place of birth: Wareham, Massachusetts
Height: 6 ft 1 in (1.85 m) Weight: 235 lb (107 kg)
Career information
High school: Wareham (MA)
College: Maine
Undrafted in 2003
Debuted in 2003 for the San Diego Chargers
Last played in 2011 for the San Diego Chargers
Career history
Career highlights and awards
  • Atlantic 10 Defensive POY (2001) (2002)
  • George H. “Bulger” Lowe Award (2002)
Career NFL statistics as of Week 13, 2011
Tackles 503
Sacks 9.5
INTs 8
Stats at NFL.com

Stephen Cooper (born June 19, 1979) was an American football linebacker for the San Diego Chargers of the National Football League. He was signed by the Chargers as an undrafted free agent in 2003. He played college football for the University of Maine. He is currently a free agent.

Early years[edit]

Cooper attended Wareham High School in Wareham, Massachusetts, where he lettered in football, basketball, and track. While being a standout linebacker, Cooper was more feared as the team's starting quarterback. Cooper led Wareham to an undefeated season, South Coast Conference Championship, and State Championship in 1995, under legendary head coach David Harrison. In one game against rival Apponequet, coach Dave Morgado said, "It takes two or three of my kids alone to stop Cooper." [1]During the 1996 season, Cooper once again led Wareham to an outstanding season, and put them in position for another SCC Championship and State Playoff berth on the last game of the year against long-time Thanksgiving Day rival, Bourne. However, Bourne upset high-powered Wareham by the score of 20-14, and cost them another SCC title and a shot at back-to-back state championships. Following the 1996 season, Cooper earned the right to represent Massachusetts at the national High School Quarterback Challenge in Orlando. He largely won the event by throwing a 51-yard pass in snowy conditions.[2]

College career[edit]

Cooper verbally committed to attend the U.S. Naval Academy but transferred closer to home at the University of Maine to try and earn a scholarship. In an interview with Tom Shanahan, Cooper said his decision was a family one. “We weren’t really thinking about professional football," Cooper said, "We were thinking about a job after college, and if you go to the Naval Academy, you’re not going to get turned away for a job.”[3] Because his high school coach and Maine Head Coach Jack Cosgrove played together in college, Cooper was offered a scholarship and became an instant star.[4] Cooper earned Maine’s Roger Ellis Rookie of Year Award his freshman year in 1999. As a junior, Cooper earned Atlantic-10 Co-Defensive Player of Year. During his senior year, Cooper racked up Atlantic-10 Conference Defensive Player of Year in 2002, the George H. “Bulger” Lowe award from the Gridiron Club of Greater Boston as the top defensive football player in New England, and was named a 1st Team Defense 2002 Associated Press NCAA Division I-AA Football All-American.[5] He was also an American Football Coaches Association and Sports Network All-American as well.[6]

In a game against Appalachian State, Cooper was named an I-AA All Star where he "turned the game around late in the third quarter, forcing ASU quarterback Joe Burchette into an interception with Maine trailing 10-0. The Black Bears scored two plays later and pulled out a 14-13 win. Cooper had 13 tackles, three solo and 10 assisted, three tackles for 15 yards of losses and two quarterback sacks for 14 yards of losses."[7] Throughout his college career spanning four years from 1999–2002, Cooper finished with 374 tackles, 57 tackles for loss, seven interceptions and 25 sacks.[8]

2002 steroid possession[edit]

A week after being named the top defensive player in New England, Cooper was caught with possession of about 1,000 steroid pills on November 1, 2002. He was riding in a car that was speeding on I-95 in Hampden, Maine. The driver, Patrick Kenney, allowed Trooper Michael Johnson to search the car in which he found the pills in a duffel bag sitting on the rear seat.[9] Cooper was not penalized for participation of any games during his senior year as possession of steroids did not violate NCAA rules. A New York Times report stated "NCAA spokeswoman, Laronica L. Conway, said the illegal possession of steroids was an issue for the institution to resolve. There is no violation of NCAA. bylaws unless a player is accused of actually ingesting the pills, not simply possessing them, she said from the association's headquarters in Indianapolis."[10]

The University of Maine star pleaded guilty in federal court to possession of steroids. Cooper was released following his plea to the misdemeanor offense, and issued a statement saying he had planned to use the drugs after the season to bulk up for a chance to play in the NFL.

Professional career[edit]

San Diego Chargers[edit]

Because of the steroid possession, Cooper's draft stock plummeted and he went undrafted. San Diego took a chance on him and signed Cooper as an undrafted free agent in 2003. Many expected Cooper to make the team including his former teammate Chad Hayes who told Tom Shanahan, "That didn't surprise anybody... He's the most dedicated guy I’ve played with. Everybody in Maine saw Coop's passion for the game. He always knew what teams were running and what audibles to look out for. He kept the quarterback running for his life." In an interview during the 2004 training camp with Shanahan, former head coach Marty Schottenheimer said, "Stephen Cooper had as good a training camp as anybody we've got... He has all of the things you're looking for in a winning player. He's going to get plenty of time this season in some fashion or role." When speaking of his goals, Cooper told Shanahan, "My goals this year are for our team to get to the playoffs and compete for a Super Bowl. My individual goal is to make as many plays as I can when I get on the field."[11]

In an interview with Jay Posner of the San Diego Union Tribune during the 2004 training camp, Schottenheimer said, "Stephen is arguably having the best camp of any linebacker we've got here. He's very bright, explosive and he can run." Despite not being the biggest linebacker, Cooper finds ways to make plays. In an interview with Posner, Cooper told Posner, "It really isn't about the size. I think it's all about instincts and how explosive you are. I think I'm smart enough and I have good enough explosion and enough punch to get guys off me and make plays." His former teammate, Donnie Edwards told Posner, "He's feisty, has a nose for the football and he's tough. He's a good competitor, plays the game with a lot of passion."[12]

On August 25, 2006, AJ Smith signed Cooper to a $15 million, five-year extension running through the 2011 season. Cooper told ESPN, "I wanted to be here and the organization wanted me to be here, so I'm just glad that it worked out the way it did... I know the defense, and now that I've been in [coordinator] Wade Phillips' system for three years, I can go out and try to do my job to the best of my ability. I'm 27 years old, and would love to never move again." AJ Smith had this to say about Cooper, "Stephen is one of our young, fast-rising players...He's a hard worker, he's tough and he is physical."[13]

The signing has established Cooper as first in line to replace Randall Godfrey who is expected to retire. The Chargers ended contract negotiations with Godfrey once they drafted Anthony Waters and Brandon Siler in the 2007 NFL Draft. Cooper will start at the left inside linebacker position opposite Matt Wilhelm and is expected to compete with Tim Dobbins, Waters, and Siler to replace Godfrey's solid defense against the run and active role as the Chargers blitzing inside linebacker.

Cooper continued to prove himself in the 2007 season, registering 108 tackles, 2 sacks, 2 forced fumbles and 2 interceptions during the regular season. He saved his most impressive game to-date as a pro for the 2007 playoffs, registering 15 solo tackles in an upset win over the Indianapolis Colts in the AFC Divisional Round.

He was placed on injured reserve on October 11, 2011 and subsequently released.

References[edit]

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