Iowa has had a sensational season but they've done it all without the services of defensive tackle Darian Cooper. He's suffered a few significant injuries that made it very difficult to step onto the field. He's persevered through a lot of tough times but he never gave up and stuck through it all. On Saturday, it all paid off for him.
On the last play of the game, Kirk Ferentz and the Iowa coaching staff sent Cooper out to the field to get a snap in his final game at Kinnick Stadium. It was a reward for the hard work he has devoted to the program, the dedication he has for the Hawkeyes, and a result of the fire that resides within him.
"I'm a competitor," Cooper said of his hard work to get where he is. "That's the thing. I told my little brother to never quit anything, I don't care how bad it looks. For me to quit just because it got hard or difficult, I wouldn't be a man of my word. It was my goal. It's a step back for a comeback at all times. I never lose track of that."
It also meant a lot to have the support of his teammates through all of his battles and especially defensive line coach Reese Morgan.
"Yeah (Coach Morgan) was out there (when I got my snap on Saturday)," Cooper pointed out. "It was good for him to be out there. He's been a part of it. The coaches have stuck with me. The players have stuck with me. They told me to keep going. It was good."
Kirk Ferentz has always been known to care about his players deeply and even he knew how important it would be to Cooper and his teammates to get him out there for one last snap at Kinnick Stadium on senior day.
"He has worked extremely hard, and it was really important to get him in," Ferentz stated in his press conference about the senior. "We were trying like crazy to give him an opportunity to play, and it just worked out. So really glad about that."
"But the good news is that he's a great young guy who's going to graduate," he added about Cooper. "He's got a tremendous personality, and if he puts it to use in the right way, he could go really far. It could be a real attribute, could be a disadvantage sometimes, too. But I think he gets it; he's really done a great job. He's a first-class guy and I'm real happy for him."
His teammates have also displayed that same support, encouragement, motivation, and graciousness. Fellow defensive tackle Jaleel Johnson echoed their appreciation for Cooper's dedication and drive and an elation and excitement for Cooper to get that one last defensive snap for the Hawkeyes.
"To see (Darian Cooper) out there was huge," Johnson shared. "It felt good for him. To see him go out there was great. It was so surreal. It's good to see him out there. He's definitely (a part of this team being unified). He's one of the guys that keeps going no matter what the situation is. He stayed with it. He motivated us a lot on the defensive line. It's good to have guys like Darian Cooper on our team."
Though he hasn't been able to participate directly in the success, Cooper has loved every minute of this special season.
"It feels good to watch," Cooper admitted. "It's great to see people develop and grow. To see Parker (Hesse) step in and play and Matt Nelson go out there and do his thing. It's good to see we have depth."
"I'm not really surprised by it," he continued. "I knew it the whole time we had this type of work eithic. We have capitalized and maximized our opportunities."
The future for Cooper is unclear. He's not looking too far ahead right now. He's focused on the current season and receiving his Hawkeye diploma.
"I'm only worried about (this season) right now," he discussed. "I'm focused on this season. I'll graduate next semester. I'll focus on that and get to (the rest) when I get to it."