Ethan Cooper / SCOUT

Steelers Only Rookie OL Has Chance

The Steelers have a history with IUP that goes back to the Chief. Ethan Cooper hopes to add to the legacy.

It's what veteran front offices do.

For example, take Ethan Cooper.

Which is what the Pittsburgh Steelers did. 

But first they had to sit patiently as the Harrisburg native's favorite childhood team, the Philadelphia Eagles, brought Cooper in for a pre-draft workout. And then the Steelers had to work through Ben McAdoo's phone calls.

McAdoo graduated from IUP, or Indiana University of Pa., the Division II school located 60 miles northeast of Pittsburgh. And McAdoo, the head coach of the New York Giants, reminded Cooper of that because Cooper was one of the best players remaining after the 2017 draft. He's a 6-2, 322-pound guard from the school that turned out actor Jimmy Stewart, sportswriter Ed Bouchette, and, oh, some guy named Art Rooney, who founded the Steelers.

But McAdoo figured to have the recruiting edge, if the Eagles didn't.

"Yeah," Cooper said of the Giants. "They were calling me a lot before the draft, saying the same things. But I just felt Pittsburgh was the best situation for me."

The Steelers snuck in the back door with the perfect pitch: We need you.

"I didn't have a visit or much interaction with the Steelers," Cooper said. "I just did a little bit of research. I looked at depth charts, rosters, and tried to figure out what would be the best situation for me. When all was said and done, I felt Pittsburgh was the best situation to put myself in."

Cooper admits the Steelers have a rock-solid starting five in place, to go along with two young reserves who proved themselves in starting stints last season, as well as a fourth-round tackle from a year ago who impressed in preseason before going on IR.

That's why the Steelers didn't need to draft a lineman this year, and only wanted to sign one after the draft. 

Cooper became that one by agreeing to a $10,000 bonus, which tied with linebacker Keith Kelsey as their highest-paid rookie free agent.

"I knew they have a great offensive line," Cooper said. "I thought I could learn from great players, learn how to fine-tune myself as a player, so that way, once the time comes, I'll be ready."

Cooper spent most of his rookie minicamp with the Steelers at left guard but is equally comfortable at right guard, and has also been practicing his snaps in order to play center. He also played both tackle spots at IUP, where he was a three-time All-PSAC West honoree and two time All-America, according to different publications.

Mike Campolo, who in 2016 completed his 12th season as the IUP OL coach, gave this description of Cooper to the Indiana Gazette:

"For one, toughness. The kid doesn’t miss anything," Campolo said. "Two, it’s his accountability. He’s always on time and he always does more than you ask him to do. Third is his character. He’s a high-character kid who was well-raised. Lastly, which I think is most important, is he is not a moody person. He is even-level. He is not a roller coaster with his moods. It’s a tremendous trait to have.

“You have to be a self-starter," Campolo added. "Coop is. He’s not a moody kid. He keeps it all in perspective. I’ll tell you this: He’s as coachable as anybody I’ve ever had.”

Campolo has been on the IUP staff since 2002 and played on the Division II national finalist in 1993 with Chris Villarrial, the most accomplished NFL player to come out of IUP since Jim Haslett (1979). In fact, Villarrial (1996) and Leander Jordan (2000) give IUP a reputation for guard play that Cooper may be able to enhance.

"He'll torque you now," said one Steelers scout. "And he has a nasty play demeanor. He's got a chance."

Cooper stepped into the IUP starting lineup late in his freshman season and started his final 38 games. He moved from left tackle to left guard to right tackle. His final game was at California (PA), a second-round loss in the NCAA playoffs that capped an impressive 10-2 season for IUP.

"My senior year was definitely my favorite year at IUP because of the bond I had with my teammates," Cooper said. "Everyone was very, very tight. We really were a tight-knit brotherhood when it came to my team. When we lost that playoff game, I was in the locker room breaking down because I knew I would never get to play with some of my best friends again. That sort of affected me a little bit."

Cooper played in the NFLPA Collegiate Bowl after the season, and then participated in the NFL Combine, where some unimpressive numbers (5.36 40, 24.5 vj, 8.02 3-cone) probably hurt him as he slid through the draft without being picked.

"It definitely was a disappointment," Cooper said. "But at the same time I just wanted the opportunity, and I felt like I knew I was going to end up getting the opportunity. It was just where, and I felt Pittsburgh was the best fit for me as a person and a player. It's close to home. Just the culture and tradition of this fine facility, this fine franchise, it just couldn't be a better situation for me."

No problem changing favorite teams?

"I did grow up an Eagles fan," he said. "But my whole mom's side of the family is Steelers fans. On Sundays it took the TV time, but I always enjoyed watching the Steelers because of the way they play. I like everything about them. I like their demeanor, the way their character is. As a whole franchise, I was like, man."

(To read Jim Wexell's thoughts on the draft, click here.)

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