Xavier Cooper motivated by conference snub

LEWISTON -- Xavier Cooper, a genial sort by nature, turns into 300 pounds of nastiness when he straps on a football helmet. Not to mention when he recalls that Pac-12 coaches left him off the all-conference team last year.

“I play this game for respect,” Cooper said firmly. “I feel like I’m not respected.”

Cooper made honorable mention all-conference as a redshirt freshman in 2012, then improved on all his statistics last season to help Washington State double its win total from the previous year. Obviously, rival coaches were not overly impressed.

“I know I’m one of the best at my position,” said Cooper, a defensive end and tackle. “That keeps me motivated every day that people overlook me. They overlook this team.”

Cooper led the 2013 Cougars with 13 1/2 tackles for loss and five sacks, and he recovered two fumbles and forced two others. In a road loss to second-ranked Oregon, Cooper recorded a career-high eight tackles and returned a fumble 29 yards for a touchdown.

Performances like that have attracted plenty of NFL scouts and player agents. Cooper said he didn’t consider turning pro after last season, and he doesn’t plan to go pro after this season.

“Even if I did have an All-American year (this season), I think I’d still come back,” Cooper said. “I love this coaching staff. I love this team. I’d love to play here as long I could, but I’m only granted two more years.”

Cooper laughs out loud about his love affair with Washington State. Even though an older sister attended WSU, Cooper says Washington State “was the last school I was thinking of” when he starred at Wilson High in Tacoma.

Cooper said UCLA, Wisconsin and Washington were, at various times, his schools of choice. Cooper attended a UCLA summer football camp prior to his senior year at Wilson, but the Bruins “didn’t want anything to do with me.” Wisconsin (“where my mom went to school”) withdrew a scholarship offer when Cooper struggled academically. Washington never offered Cooper a ride after he sought to join high school teammate Desmond Trufant (“my best friend”) on the Huskies.

Trufant, a cornerback with the NFL’s Atlanta Falcons, is the brother of former Wilson High, Washington State and Seattle Seahawks cornerback Marcus Trufant. Yet another Tacoma native, ex-WSU wide receiver and assistant coach Mike Levenseller, lured Cooper to Pullman.

“I thank him to this day,” Cooper said. “He offered me a scholarship. That was the biggest blessing of my life. I really appreciate everything Washington State has done for me.”

That most definitely includes the education he is receiving. Cooper said his parents (including father Louis, a two-time NAIA All-American defensive tackle at Doane College in Nebraska) have “always stressed education,” even when their son was struggling in class in high school.

It took Cooper two years to become academically eligible to play at WSU.

“I can’t blame anybody but myself,” Cooper said, “because I made those decisions to not do what I needed to do in high school.”

Now Cooper is working hard in the classroom and on the football field. He’s determined to play in the NFL, and Washington State defensive line coach Joe Salave’a – an NFL defensive lineman for eight years – says the 6-foot-4 Cooper has pro potential if he becomes more focused mentally and more consistent physically.

“He’s got those qualities that you look for in a (pro) defensive lineman,” Salave’a said. “He’s got height. He’s got athleticism. He also has strength and power.”

WSU offensive tackle Joe Dahl has observed Cooper up close and personal in practice.

“He’s so quick off the ball and so fast for how big he is,” Dahl said. “He’s one of the most competitive kids on the team. He hates to lose. When he wins, he wants to let you know about it.”

No matter how much yapping Cooper does after a big play in practice, Dahl says it’s tough to get too mad at the big fella.

“He’s a great guy,” Dahl said. “He’s just one of those guys who gets along with everyone.”

A criminal justice major, Cooper has expressed interest in possibly working for the FBI, CIA or Secret Service after he’s done with football. This season, he wants to win a Pac-12 title and make all-conference along with WSU senior nose tackle Toni Pole. Cooper maintains that Pole was another Cougar overlooked by coaches in last year’s all-conference voting.

“For them not to put him or me on there was just disrespect,” Cooper said. “But I think it just motivated us to come out (even more determined) this year.

“We don’t need our names on any awards list or anything to tell us how good we are. We know how good we are, and we know what we mean to this team.”

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