SD Bolt Report Exclusive: Stephen Cooper

Stephen Cooper joined the San Diego Chargers as an undrafted free agent out of Maine this offseason. Signed a day after the draft, Cooper impressed enough to make the team, has contributed weekly on special teams and finally got his first NFL game experience as a linebacker this past week against Oakland.

Stephen Cooper ran the 40 in 4.68 seconds, had a vertical jump of 39 inches and bench-pressed 225 pounds 23 times at a Boston College tryout attended by all but two NFL teams.

Richard Nagy, the defensive coordinator at Maine, described Cooper as a "basketball player playing football" early in his career.

"You could say that," Cooper said. "I just tried to run around and make plays."

Basketball was his passion growing up in Wareham, Massachusetts a town just 50 miles outside of Boston. At 6-1, and an athletic 235 pounds his talent blossomed as a linebacker.

Coach Nagy went on to say Cooper was a "Student of the game."

"I am a guy who tries to know what is going on. Try to get to know the opponent through listening to the coaching staff and getting into my playbook and watching a lot of video tape. What I try to do is get an edge on the guys mentally. Video is definitely a big thing because you get a grasp of what their favorite plays are so you know what to look for when it comes gametime."

Cooper collected 121 tackles, including 81 unassisted, along with 19 tackles for loss, 9.5 sacks and three interceptions as a senior. As a junior Cooper had 95 tackles, 18 for a loss, 5 sacks and two interceptions.

His first training camp had its ups and downs like any rookie. One thing he didn't do was draw the ire of his veteran teammates. Hazing of rookies is the norm, but Cooper played it right with his "yes sir's".

"I didn't get to really experience any of that. I just kept to myself so guys don't go pointing fingers at me looking forward to doing something to me. All I had to do was sing a school song and that was pretty much it."

One play in particular stood out for Cooper in camp and was truly the defining moment. Cooper drilled fullback Joey Goodspeed as he came off the line to go into his route. Goodspeed flew back into one of the yellow cones ending any ideas of him running a route. It was a great play by Cooper, against a big back and well within the five yards. Still Cooper got a talking to from his coaches. Maybe it was praise or it could have been the coaches wanted the backs to run out and not get crushed. Not long after, Cooper was running with the second team defense in camp.

"It's a place where I can earn a spot," Cooper said when he was picked up after the draft. A bit prophetic, but it wasn't always a sure thing. Cutdown day came and Cooper, just like everyone else thought his name might be called.

"Yes, definitely. I have a lot of confidence in my abilities, but you never know in this business. There are a lot of guys you'd think would make the team and they don't. You never know what is going to happen and I just thank God that I am here now."

Cooper switched jerseys from 49 to 54 when he made the team and Jude Waddy went on injured reserve. The number 54 must have been special to Cooper?

"No, not really. I have been a single digit number my whole career, since I was a youngster. I was number 4 in college. I just had to make sure I had a 4 in my number and I'd be cool."

Cooper has been active for the first four games of the season. Fellow linebacker, and 4th round draft pick, Matt Wilhelm has been active for one. The undrafted guy has to be feeling good about that.

"Of course you want to be active and get on the field and play. I just thank God for everything he has done for me up to this point."

Cooper got his first experience on defense this past week in Oakland. It was just one play, subbing for Ben Leber who got poked in the eye and the play went away from Cooper.

"I got blocked, but there wasn't really anything I could do about it. I only got in for one play, it was really anything big."

Being active through the first four games of the season is a stepping stone and a testament to how the coaches view Cooper and his practice habits. Cooper has big plans, he may have been blocked once, but next time his mission is clear. Make a play and make it hard for the coaches to take him out of the game after one play.

Part II of our exclusive interview with Cooper will air tomorrow.

Denis Savage can be reached at safage@cox.net

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