The Temple football team is wearing shirts this spring with the slogan "Never Again."
The phrase refers to everyone returning from last year's 2-10 team, but perhaps no one more so than sophomore kicker Jim Cooper.
The highly-regarded recruit from Mainland Regional High School in South Jersey was expected to step in for four-year kicker Brandon McManus last year, but his struggles started in the opener against Notre Dame and he never improved.
Cooper missed two field goals and an extra point in the 28-6 loss to the Fighting Irish, then found himself on the bench after missing his first extra point in the home opener against Houston the following week. Coach Matt Rhule gave Cooper one more chance, but when he hit the post on a short attempt against Fordham, Cooper was relegated to kicking off the rest of the season.
After an offseason of work, Cooper is ready to hit the reset button and see if he can still fulfill all the promise he brought into the program last year.
"I think first and foremost my mechanics are different," said Cooper, who finished the year 0-for-3 on field goals and 1-for-3 on extra points. "I've been working on ball contact and follow-through and getting my consistency and timing down. I think I was too far from the ball last season.
"But the biggest difference is the mindset is different. I think I can speak for the whole team, but it's like boys to men. There's more of a toughness from a mental outlook."
Coach Matt Rhule said he is starting to see Cooper gain some confidence midway through spring practice.
"Jim has really started to own the technical things to kick at a higher level," said Rhule. "The first four practices he missed his first kick. He was kind of tip-toeing up to it. … It's about building momentum through the ball, being deep on your plant foot. And last Saturday was the first day he came through. Each day he's been doing better."
Cooper admitted having his best friend and former Mainland teammate Tom Bradway – a transfer from Lafayette – on board to hold for him has been helpful this spring. But to his credit, Cooper has never made excuses.
He was the first player out of the locker room in South Bend to answer questions, and this week wouldn't blame anybody else for his failures.
"Tom's been my best friend since second grade and my holder since sixth grade," said Cooper. "I know the ball is going to be down and the laces are going to be forward. … But you can't blame the snap, the hold or the blocking. I only have one job, I have to take all the responsibility."
Cooper said a conversation he had with Penn State kicker Sam Ficken – who missed four field goals in an opening-day loss to Virginia in 2012 – helped his overall outlook.
"He contacted me, and everybody knows after the Virginia game he was able to turn things around but he talked me through a lot," said Cooper. "He just told me to stay hungry and use that as motivation for how last season went and how I want next season to go. I know I'm not the only kicker to struggle."
Cooper said he would give anything to have the offseason work he just went through leading into his freshman year, but he's just trying to make the best of his second chance.
"Never again," said Cooper. "It's not just letters on our back. Last season was a learning curve, it was the first time in my life I under-performed. That's what fueled me."
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