Workout Warriors

A couple of seasons ago, a linebacker from West Virginia got a head start on his Mountaineer college career by haunting the WVU weight room and putting every bit of energy into developing himself as a player. In the summer of 2005, another Mountain State backer is following the same path.

During the summer of 2003, University High School's Marc Magro was a frequent visitor to the Puskar Center's weight room. Although Magro couldn't work with the team due to NCAA rules, word soon began to spread of an ultra-dedicated figure pumping iron and pounding the training circuit in preparation for his freshman season. All that work paid off, as Magro reshaped his body into a six-foot, two-inch, 235-pound tower of strength in the middle. Although it seems like he's been around forever, Magro will only be a sophomore this fall, and has a bright future in front of him.

Two years after Magro began, another linebacker is becoming a well-known face in the strength and conditioning center. What's more, he has the advantage of a mentor as he begins to embark on life as a collegiate Division I athlete. These days, if you see Magro working, you're likely to see Weirton's Zac Cooper right beside him.

Cooper is taking advantage of new NCAA rules that allow incoming freshmen to begin working with their future teams once they graduate from high school. Check that – he hasn't been just taking advantage of it – he's been pushing it to the limit.

"I think it's a huge advantage," Cooper said of the early start. "I'm starting to learn the system already. I feel like I am so far ahead of the other freshman (from past seasons)."

Of course, Cooper has not only the advantage of the head start, but also of the presence of Magro, who willingly has taken the freshman-to-be under his wing. Magro knows what it's like to work on his own and face the challenges of being a newcomer to the system, so he's sharing the knowledge he has gained with his future teammate.

"Marc is teaching me everything," Cooper said of his mentor. "It seems like he is just doing everything right. He's a great guy to learn from – probably the best one around here. He's just a great guy and a great player."

At that point, Magro, who was standing nearby, lets out a good-natured "Shut up, Coop". It's indicative of the bond that the two have already developed, and also a great sign in the development of Magro's leadership skills. He's taken to that role naturally with Cooper, and it should carry over to the rest of the team this fall.

For his part, Cooper realizes he's lucky to have someone to work out with and learn all the tips and tricks of the trade, but that doesn't stop him from returning the barbs in Magro's direction.

"We're teammates, and we play the same position, so we don't hit each other. He's lucky," Cooper grinned as Magro responded with a loud 'whoa'. "I'm joking, of course. It's going to be really good once the season starts. It's about competing, but we are a team."

Although the advantages of the jump start are undeniable, it's not as if Cooper has everything mastered. He admits that the pace and demands of college workouts far exceed anything he experienced in high school.

"I worked out at home before I came here, but when you come here it's a whole different workout," Cooper said with a rueful smile. "It's a different lifestyle, period. It's better to be here and get used to it than to be at home, though. I thought I was in shape, but I wasn't. These are really tough workouts, but they are good. They are the way I like them, long, but they are really tough. It's just nonstop. You have to have endurance, and you have to have a lot of strength to keep up."

With depth at linebacker a bit of a question, Cooper hopes to work his way into some playing time as a true freshman.

"I just want to play any way I can," when asked to name his goals for the 2005 campaign. "Special teams, make a contribution, whatever. If I end up redshirting, I won't be disappointed, though."

Even though a redshirt would keep him off the field in the fall and prevent him from accepting the cheers of 60,000 Mountaineer faithful in full uniform, Cooper already believes that he has another advantage in his quest to improve.

"I've already talked to all the other guys from West Virginia," Cooper said of Ryan Dawson, Nate Sowers, and Reed Williams, West Virginians all who will join the Mountaineer squad with him as freshmen. "You are playing for your state, and it's a different atmosphere. You know everybody, you have pride. You grew up here, and everybody knows who you are. It makes you want to do something for the state."

Cooper, who has already made a great start to his college career, might be poised to do just that.

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