The name Amari Cooper has become synonymous with the word ‘superstar' around Tuscaloosa.
The true freshman wide receiver has proven nothing but studly in his first year with Alabama, leading the team with 53 receptions for 894 yards and nine touchdowns. Of those catches, 36 have been for first downs.
|In a season full of big games, Cooper's performance against Tennessee was his biggest.|
He is also 106 yards away from becoming just the fourth player in school history to record 1,000 receiving yards in a single season, and is also only five catches and 30 yards away from jumping former Alabama star Julio Jones in the freshman record books.
One of Cooper's bigger moments this year came in the SEC Championship Game against Georgia. With the Crimson Tide down 28-25 with less than five minutes to play, A.J. McCarron found him for a 45-yard touchdown bomb to seal the 32-28 win. After the game, Cooper said he didn't even see McCarron on that play but saw the ball in the air and knew he had to run at full speed to get it. He did.
"It's a play that I've always dreamed of," a modest yet confident Cooper told several reporters surrounding his locker after the game.
That touchdown was key in booking the Tide a trip to their third BCS National Championship Game in four years. What's ironic for Cooper is the game will be played in Miami, the city where he grew up. He gets to go home to play in the biggest game of his life.
"It's a dream come true and I can't wait to go and play in front of my hometown," Cooper said.
On the initial national championship coaches' teleconference at the beginning of December, Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly addressed what makes Alabama's offense so potent.
"I think what makes them very difficult to defend is that they've got a great playmaker on the perimeter as well, where you can throw the ball down the field," he said.
The playmaker in question is Cooper. He stretches defenses out wide, takes shots down field and makes defensive backs look silly trying to cover him.
"I think he has a different gear that a lot of people don't have," center Barrett Jones said. "The ball is in the air and all of the sudden, (he and the defender are) side-by-side and he accelerates and he has the ball. He's one of the fastest people I've ever seen."
McCarron trusts Cooper wholeheartedly. He can throw anything the freshman's way and a play will be made. Last week, the quarterback listed some of Cooper's best qualities. The first thing he said was, "smart player."
"The kid's a freshman, he's going to make mistakes out there," McCarron said. "But he's a freak out there out wide."
|This catch against Georgia sealed the win for Alabama in the SEC title game.|
"He knows what to do, how to do it, and why to do it," added receiver Kevin Norwood, "and the coaches love that about him. One thing I love about him is he's very dependable. He's there at the right time. AJ loves him. We all love him. He's just a good receiver."
Alabama head coach Nick Saban said many of Cooper's impressive qualities are innate and unteachable. His judgment and aggressive style of attacking the ball rather than waiting for it is something that makes Cooper more effective than other receivers.
"I think it's a matter of having an aggressive attitude about going after the ball," Saban said. "Too many guys are too casual in terms of waiting for the ball to come down. They've got more confidence in catching around their body rather than extending for the ball and catching it with their hands. That's something you always want receivers to do. Amari Cooper's really pretty natural doing that, and very confident doing that."
Coming home to play for the national championship will give Cooper a little chip on his shoulder. He has the chance to play in front of his family and friends, break more records and wow more crowds Monday when Alabama takes on Notre Dame in one of the more historical matchups in recent title game history.
"Big time players make big time plays in big time games and I just want to come out and be a big time player," Cooper said.
For more Alabama coverage, follow Laken Litman on Twitter!