Cooter's made a name for himself

When he ran through the `T' for the last time wearing a Tennessee uniform, he anticipated he'd get an ovation louder than you'd expect for a career backup. But the cheering and clapping left an indelible imprint in the memory bank of Jim Bob Cooter.

``It was something special, something I'll remember,'' said Cooter, a senior quarterback who has yet to throw a pass in five brief career appearances.

``I'll remember going out with all the seniors and they were coming over to the sideline and we were all hugging. It was a nice time.''

Jim Bob Cooter has had a nice time at Tennessee, although he admits he wishes he had played more. But he can't complain much about being behind guys like Casey Clausen, Erik Ainge and Brent Schaeffer.

``As a competitor, you want to be out there helping the team win,'' Cooter said. ``We've had some pretty good quarterbacks and I can't argue for playing time over all of the guys we've had. … I probably don't have the natural athletic ability of those guys.

``But any way I can find my way on the field to compete, I will.''

He did so in the final home regular-season game against Kentucky. He was a blocker on the kickoff return team.

``That was fun for me,'' he said.

His career at UT has been fun, although he's rarely played. He saw action in one game each in 2003, 2004 and 2005 and he got in two games this season.

Yet, most any UT fan knows the name of Jim Bob Cooter. Fans chant for him to play. Kids request his No. 15 jersey.

Why the wild popularity for a career backup?

``Obviously, it started with my name,'' Cooter said. ``I've got a real interesting southern-type name that I guess I've gotta thank my parents for.

``I think I kind of appeal to the lifestyle down here. I think it would be a lot different if I were at a Pac-10 school. I don't think my name would connect with that fan base as much.''

Cooter receives his share of fan mail. He's also noticed in public.

``People kind of recognize me more than the average walk-on backup quarterback,'' Cooter said.

Some national announcers doing Tennessee games have said Jim Bob Cooter has the best name in college football.

``I've heard people say, `Verne Lundquist said this about you,''' Cooter said. ``That's good. I'm getting a little more popularity I guess, but I didn't control my name. My parents gave it to me. So I guess they were kind of the masters of marketing.''

His first two seasons at Tennessee, Cooter said he took some ribbing from teammates. But that's gone away. The name has brought him attention, but in his earlier days, it brought him ridicule. He's had to have tough skin.

``I'd say it's tough to say something to me that's really going to offend me, that's really going to hurt me,'' Cooter said.

Cooter is one of the smartest players on Tennessee's team. He's made the Academic All-SEC team three times. He won the High School Heisman at Lincoln County in Fayetteville, Tenn.

``I am proud of that,'' said Cooter, who has a sport management degree. ``School work always came easy for me. My main focus is on football. The best school work I'm doing here is when I go to meetings every day and learn from coach (David) Cutcliffe and all the coaches. That's what's going to help me in life.

``At the same time, I've got something in me that wants me to do well in class.''

Cooter plans to be a coach. He will be a graduate assistant at UT starting in the spring. He wants to coach at the major college level.

``I think I can do it,'' he said.

As a UT player, Cooter has used his intelligence to signal in plays for Tennessee and steal signals from opponents.

Against Kentucky, Cooter picked up several signals from Wildcats quarterbacks coach Randy Sanders, who taught Cooter UT's signals before moving on to Lexington.

``I'd been with coach Sanders a long time,'' Cooter said. ``We put together the signals that he developed through the years. When he went to Kentucky, apparently, he took some of them with him.''

During the UT-Kentucky game, Cooter began watching Sanders.

``It was such a close game, I thought maybe it might help out here or there (if he figured out a play),'' Cooter said. ``I picked up on a few things. I don't know if it did any good at all, but I was picking up some of the signals, yes.''

It apparently helped on a Kentucky fourth-and-3 late in the game. Kentucky was lined up in the shotgun. Cooter saw Sanders signal for the draw. Cooter yelled to his teammates, who stuffed the draw. UT won 17-12.

``I felt good that I had cracked the code,'' Cooter said.

While Cooter couldn't crack the lineup at Tennessee, he had his share of athletic success on the high school level. He was team captain in football, basketball and baseball. He was the Region 3-5A MVP in football.

He had offers from small schools to play defense. He played defensive end in the East-West Shrine game in Murfreesboro after his senior season.

``I was a pretty good defender, but not fast enough to play in the SEC,'' Cooter said.

He signed to play baseball with Volunteer State in Gallatin, but decided to walk on at Tennessee.

``My love was football,'' Cooter said. ``I wanted to spend my whole life around football, coaching football.''

As a freshman, Cooter tried out for the UT baseball team. He was cut after a 30-minute tryout. He planned to try out again, but he broke his right collarbone. He played pitcher, third base, first base, left field and right field.

``Somewhere where you don't need a lot of speed, but have to be able to throw,'' he said. ``Obviously, I could hit well.''

He became a hit at UT – because of his name.

He's gotten a lot of mileage out of being Jim Bob Cooter. If he has a son, what will he name him?

``I've had a lot of suggestions from friends – Jim Bob Junior, Bubba, Billy Bob, all the double names, everything you can think of that is country-ish,'' Cooter said.

``We'll see. Of course, if I name him something like Jim Bob Junior, the kid's going to grow up with tough skin. He's got to deal with that.''

Cooter's dad's name: Lance Gerald Cooter.

``I guess his parents weren't as creative,'' Cooter said.

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