Hard Hittin' Willie Cooper

Junior Willie Cooper has been moved back and forth from linebacker to safety numerous times during his career at UM. But the moves were not a big deal to Cooper, because he is completely a team-first player.

"Last spring, we were kind of short at linebacker," Cooper said. "Wherever I can contribute to the team, that is where I will be. Coach asked me if I would move to linebacker so that is where I contributed to the team last year. I just basically wanted to give it all that I've got. I want to learn my assignments and just contribute to the team however I can."

Willie Cooper said it was difficult to keep any weight on his frame at linebacker last year because after "practicing everyday, he would lose the weight back again." Cooper says he is now at about 208 pounds and he would like to drop to about 200 pounds when the season begins.

Never blessed with much speed, Cooper's strength as a safety has always been his hitting ability. Cooper wants to work on getting in the correct position on each defensive play so that he will not have to cover a lot of ground when he if he is ever caught out of position.

"In my game right now I need to improve the little things like getting into position and learning the personnel and recognizing plays," Cooper said. "I also need to improve my own technique and footwork.

"The strength of my game has always been that I am a hard hitting safety. Sometimes that can get the best of me though because I cheat a little bit to get the hit, but my strength has always been my hitting ability."

This spring, a lot of the defensive backs can not practice at full speed because of a variety of injuries. Safety Brandon Meriweather's spring has been cut short by shoulder surgery and cornerbacks Glenn Sharpe and Carlos Armour are slowly returning from ACL injuries.

"This spring we have a lot of nicks and bruises but I think we are doing a good job of mentally preparing guys," Cooper said. "We get a lot of leadership from guys like Glenn Sharpe and Brandon Meriweather. They are being real vocal and leading by example. Glenn has been in a National Championship game so him and Brandon are leading by example and being very vocal. It is hard for us to come along physically because of all the injuries, but mentally I think we are coming along.

"Coach Walton wants us all to just work on our knowledge of the game. We are all physical enough to be able to do what we need to do on the field. It is just the mental part of playing that he gets on us sometimes. He wants us to take care of the mental aspects of the game and the physical part will take care of itself."

With all the injuries to the secondary, many young and inexperienced players are getting more repetitions.

"Bruce Johnson is coming along real well," Cooper said. "The younger guys need to grow up fast right now, because next year they need to be prepared to play and contribute."

Cooper and the Hurricanes return to practice Friday at 3:20 before the spring game on Saturday.

David Lake is a Staff Writer with CanesTime and can be contacted by emailing him at lake@canestime.com


Canes Time Top Stories