Mac Engel

The unreal story of how Amari Cooper picked up Alabama scholarship from Nick Saban

Amari Cooper is an avid reader and can be as quiet as a sleeping owl yet he has far more to say than he would lead anyone to believe, or even think.

Such a tact may be part of his plan. Or he’s just shy.

When he appeared in front of 40 youth football campers at The Hockaday School on June 24 in Dallas, he was in his element on the football field, and painfully out of his element in front of an audience.

He clearly was not completely comfortable in this role, and spoke for about 45 seconds. None of the campers asked him a question, which was a great disappointment as even he expected that.

The role he clearly is comfortable in is as the No. 1 receiver for the Dallas Cowboys. His arrival to the team last October changed the direction of their entire season.

The surprise of the day came about two hours later, when he fulfilled his obligation with Gatorade, which was paying him to appear at the camp, and he met with the handful of local media that attended the camp specifically to talk to him.

If you ask Amari Cooper the right question, or one that he is interested in answering, he’s quite candid and insightful.

Are people educated now about the importance of actually being hydrated?

Yes. For there is an emphasis now on water and Gatorade breaks. Before, when I was in high school, it was like, ‘Water is for cowards.’ But now it’s like you actually need it in your body to perform at the highest level.

Do you have a most memorable experience from a summer football camp?

The memory that most sticks out is when I was 17 and I went to the Alabama camp. It was really hot. We were doing 1 on 1s. I ran a route and made this guy fall. And it was right in front of coach (Nick) Saban. He saw it and came up to me and took off his hat and he shook my hand and I got a (scholarship) offer that day. That’s the memory that sticks out.

You ran one route and got a scholarship offer to Alabama?

Yeah, and that’s really a compliment to Coach Saban and how good of a recruiter he is. I was kinda shocked myself. When he shook my hand and told me he wanted to meet me in my office later, I didn’t know what that was going to be. I didn’t know he was going to offer me. He did and I was taken aback by that; I thought, ‘This guy has seen me run one route.’ He has an eye for talent to see one play and knew, ‘I want this guy on my team.’

Why do you think the transition from Oakland to Dallas went as well as it did?

I don’t know. I think it’s just a perfect fit. It’s like I was a piece of the puzzle that was needed, and everything around me was needed as well for the puzzle to be complete. It’s a great situation. I can only thank God I was brought here to be a Dallas Cowboy, when I could have been on any team, probably some teams I didn’t want to be on.

But when I got the call I was going to be a Dallas Cowboy, I was really excited about that. I think I have a lot of good teammates, we have a group of core guys that really complement my game well. The play-calling. It seems like everything fell in place here. I don’t know how to explain it, and why it went as well as it did, but I know it did.

What do you think the possibilities are for this team this year?

The goal for every team is the same, to be the last team standing and to win that last game in February. That’s what we are building towards. We have a lot of pieces in place to do that. It’s going to be about our approach to doing it. It’s about the work the guys are doing now as professionals that’s not really part of our regiment right now in terms of having to do anything, but it’s important.

When would you want contract issues resolved or does it matter to you?

It really doesn’t matter to me. I’m not really thinking about that. I’m more focused on how I play and how I approach the game. The type of work I put in. I really want to play well. Everything starts with that. If you play good football, you’re going to be around for a long time. I want to be a Dallas Cowboy for a long time.

What about your upbringing created the motivation in you?

Where I grew up, it was all about sports. Football, basketball, sports. That’s all we did. After school, we’d race to finish our homework just so we could play football. When I look back, in retrospect, at my childhood I am so glad I was not able to get the video games that I so desperately wanted. Like the PlayStation, PSP, or XBox and those things because instead of being in the house playing those games, like some of my friends, I was forced to go outside and play sports.

That cultivated my game without me knowing it and helped with the moves that I still use today.

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Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Amari Cooper (19) goes over the head of cornerback Anthony Brown (30) for a catch during the Dallas Cowboys final minicamp before spring training at The Star in Frisco, Texas, Thursday, June 13, 2019. (Special to the Star-Telegram Bob Booth) Bob Booth Bob Booth

Where did you pick up chess?

I first started playing it in elementary school, my music teacher used to teach us. I didn’t take it seriously at the time. I can remember being interested in it, I think in the second grade, but it was not the thing to do at the time. I had learned how each and every piece moved. Looking back, I didn’t want to seem too interested in it because no one else was interested in it. I was more interested in basketball and football anyways.

When I got to college that’s when I started to get more interested in it.

What is your favorite chess piece?

The knight. It’s my favorite piece because it’s the most deceptive piece and all war is based on deception; that’s a quote from ‘The Art of War.’

What book are you reading these days?

Now I am reading ‘The 48 Laws of Power.’ It’s a book I always wanted to read. I knew some of the laws before but I had just never got around to reading the book. It’s really interesting. It has a lot of rich military history in it.

Would you compare yourself to a knight on a football field?

I would. It’s a sneaky piece. It can move in that ‘L’ position, so it can be on this or that side all in one move. I don’t talk too much trash and let my game do the talking. Some people may see that as someone who may sneak up on you and before it’s too late you already have 200 yards in a game. That’s how I view the knight. It’s that deceptive piece that you don’t expect much from it, but it will sneak up on you and checkmate you.

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Cowboys wide receiver Amari Cooper said making the Pro Bowl is even more special because of the bye-week trade from the Oakland Raiders. Amanda McCoy

Have you always been a quiet guy?

Actually I used to be way more quiet. In elementary and middle school, I was really quiet and shy. To be honest, I’m not as shy or quiet any more. I guess you guys would say I am still quiet, but if you ask my teammates they will say initially I was really quiet. I don’t think that will ever change when I come in contact with people I don’t know. I will sit back and be observant at first. And then I’ll start talking more.

But I am definitely not as quiet and shy as I used to be.

What’s the one thing about Amari Cooper would surprise people?

How competitive I am. Since I am an NFL player people would think I am a competitive person, but I don’t think people understand how really competitive I am. I will compete in anyway, it doesn’t matter what it is.

In high school there was this one guy, who was also a competitor, we used to compete and try to see who could name the most name brand shoes. We would compete at stupid stuff like that. If you get me in a competitive situation, you’ll get the most out of my personality because I will start talking trash or whatever I have to do to throw the guy off balance and win at that moment.

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