Caleb Cooper: Long Road Back

No football player has worked harder with less certainty of what the future holds. For Caleb Cooper, the next phase of his life began this week when he moved to Morgantown and enrolled at West Virginia University.

Cooper's arrival at WVU comes a year and a half later than he had originally planned. After leading Wyoming East High to West Virginia's Class AA championship in 1999,the first-team all-state tight end signed with the Mountaineers. All was seemingly perfect in his world until that spring. Caleb and his father Michael were on their way from their home in Pineville to Huntington to attend the Victory Awards Dinner. But as the Coopers drove down the West Virginia Turnpike near Beckley, there was an accident. Their SUV flipped over, and so too did the perfect world Caleb had known.

Michael was killed in the accident, and Caleb was severely injured. It began a year and a half of incredible emotional and physical pain that few can even imagine. The doctors started working on the physical injuries from the moment he arrived at the hospital. A crushed pelvis and internal injuries required numerous surgeries over the next 16 months.

It's now been four months since his last surgery,and Cooper is ready to make his next move.

"I've been good," said Cooper. "I was up at WVU recently. I was getting my apartment ready.

"I've been selling cars at Patriot Ford in Beckley," noted Caleb, who caught 27 passes for 489 yards and six TDs in leading the Warriors to a perfect 14-0 record in 1999. "I've been doing that since September. But I got my last surgery out of the way in August. I've been working out, trying to get back and ready. I'm getting there. I'll be moving to Morgantown on Jan.2, and from there, we'll see what happens."

Cooper still suffers from lingering problems from his injuries, but he's close to 100 percent,and he's anxious to move forward with his life.

"Physically I'm back to normal," said Caleb. "The urethra and everything is now fine. I still have a dead nerve in my left leg that runs from my pelvis to my big toe. Once they get that figured out, everything should be all right. I've got my weight back,and I'm getting my strength back. Hopefully I'll be ready to go. I've been talking to Coach (Donnie) Young and Coach (Rick) Trickett and Coach (Rich) Rodriguez,and they have all been encouraging. I made it up for a couple of games,and I 've been chomping at the bit to get up there.

"I'm happy that I'm finally going to get up there," explained Cooper. "It's a relief,but at the same time, it's kind of bittersweet. At times I stop and think, ‘Why should I have to go through all of this?' It was already taken care of and done once, and now I've got to go through this process all again. But you can't change what's past, no matter how much you want to. I've been fighting through this for a year and a half now,and I'm ready to move on. It's been a long,hard road,and it's a relief that it's finally over.

"It's been difficult in many areas. When I first started planning on coming up, Coach Young had to go back to the Clearinghouse and find all my old transcripts and ACT scores and all that stuff all over again. I was on pins and needles about that for a while, because I was wondering if the Clearinghouse still had it all and if I would be eligible. Other than that, everything is going smoothly. It's been great to go up to Morgantown and hang out with a couple of my friends from down here who are going to school there. It's been a blast to go to the games with them and have fun with no strings attached,having no catheter or anything to worry about."

Though his injuries have mostly healed and the doctors have given him permission to return to his football career, there is no guarantee that he will be able to regain his old abilities. Major college football is a game meant only for the fastest, strongest and most talented. No one yet knows if Caleb still has what it takes to compete on this level physically. There's not a soul who has worked harder or wanted it more, but it takes more than just heart and desire, though they can help. Cooper is not yet sure he can still perform physically, but the 6-5, 265-pounder is certain he would be cheating himself if he didn't at least try.

"The doctor that did the surgery on my pelvis turned me loose back in the summer," stated Caleb. "He told me not to come back and see him unless it starts hurting. He said it was up to me how much I could do. He said there wasn't anything I couldn't do, if I can take it. He said if I can play, play, but if it hurts too bad, then that's a decision I have to make. As far as the urethra, it's fine, and that shouldn't affect me. They left every bit of it up to me. I guess we'll see in the next year if I can give it a go.

"I know I would be doing myself wrong if I didn't give it a try, and I know my dad would want me to try. I worked too hard to get back to this position not to at least give it a chance. I may get up there, and everything will go well, and I'll get right back in gear. I 've come this far. There's no telling how much further I can go. We'll go give it a try. If it doesn't work, (the Mountaineer staff) has some plans for me as far as coaching. I can't go wrong, but I am going to try to play.

"My (eligibility) clock will start in January,so I 'm going to try to go this spring. Of course, I'll probably be redshirted next season, because I realize it's going to take me a little while to get ready to play. I'm going to talk it over with the coaches at every step and make sure things are going well. I need to get in there and start working out with the team. I'm working out on my own now, but it's not the same as working out with the team. I need to start running. There is nothing wrong with me in terms of running, but I haven't gone into a full sprint yet, so I don't even know if I'm as fast as I used to be. I'm not scared of running, but I am a little worried about how I'll do, so I've sort of put that off until last. I've been hoping that the nerve will improve that controls my toe, because if that gets better, it will help me run better."

Caleb is ready to move on to the next stage in his life. He hopes it includes a playing career with the Mountaineers, but even if it doesn't, he knows he can overcome the disappointment. After all, Cooper has already had to overcome more than most 20-year-olds should have to. But he's back on his feet now and ready to move forward, no matter what the future holds.

"I just want to let everyone know I'm still around; I haven't disappeared," noted Caleb. "I'm waiting for my time, and I'll be up there in January. I can't wait. It's been a long road, but when I get to run out the tunnel with the team, all that hard work will have been worth it."

This article appeared in last week's edition of the Blue & Gold News - the only publication devoted exclusively to Mountaineer athletics. For more great indepth stories, articles and analysis that you won't find anywhere else, subscribe to the Blue & Gold News today!

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