Commentary

Cooper playing big at small school

Updated: August 17, 2009, 11:05 AM ET
By Jeff Miller | Special to ESPNRISE.com

Cooper
Tonya IrwinOklahoma State commit Lavocheya Cooper scored 23 total touchdowns last season.

ARP, Texas -- Lavocheya Cooper said his grandmother came up with his name -- pronounced La-VAH-chee-ay -- but isn't sure how.

Apparently, it means one who can star at free safety, running back and returner as well as start on a basketball playoff team and medal at the state track meet. You name it, he does it for the Class 2A Arp (Texas) Tigers.

Cooper has also become a one-man statement for all the small schools across Texas. He was named as a utility player to the Super Team first unit in the popular Dave Campbell's Texas Football preseason magazine, a 50-year institution in Texas. Among the 24 players, he's the only player who doesn't attend a 5A or 4A high school.

"He's the total deal," said Arp running backs coach George Greer.

But it's difficult to get the 6-foot-1, 185-pound Cooper -- who recently committed to Oklahoma State -- to say much about the Super Team other than he was surprised and honored. He might play like Deion, but he isn't Neon.

"Very unassuming," Arp coach Dale Irwin said. "He's never been able to grasp why he gets all this attention."

Cooper runs the 40-yard dash in 4.5 seconds and rushed for 1,062 yards with 17 touchdowns last season. On defense, he grabbed seven interceptions and made 72 tackles. On special teams, six returns for touchdowns. He helped Arp to an undefeated regular season and a second straight playoff run that ended in the regional quarterfinals.

Irwin said those six returns -- three punts and three kickoffs -- were the only kicks even remotely sent in Cooper's direction.

"If I was kicking against him, I'd never kick it to him," said Irwin.

Asked to choose a favorite side of the ball, Cooper quickly selected defense, "'cause I get to hit people." His favorite player is Pittsburgh Steelers safety Troy Polamalu, and Cooper's budding ponytail might someday resemble the Polamalu look.

Defensive coordinator Shannon Arrington said Cooper is particularly adept at making a receiver feel unwelcome.

"He's very physical," Arrington said. "With his ability to run, it's rare. A lot of times, you don't get the best of both worlds."

On offense, Cooper is an excellent complement to senior H-back Michael Wade.

"He has a lot of speed and power, great vision," Greer said. "It's going to take more than one [defender] to get him down."

Cooper
Tonya IrwinCooper plays safety as well as running back and kick returner for Arp.

"He's straight-line fast," Irwin said, "but he carries his pads so well. Very shifty. He's not a cut-on-a-dime guy but glides."

Senior left guard Cole Wills paid Cooper a different kind of compliment: "He makes our job easier."

Cooper's commitment to Oklahoma State came following offers from multiple schools, including Baylor and TCU as well as other teams in the Big 12 and Big Ten.

Cooper said Oklahoma State was the first program that made him a scholarship offer and the only one that he visited. The Arp staff doesn't see that as a coincidence.

"He's loyal. Big-time loyal," Arrington said. "He's a great player and an even better kid. I'm also the track coach. He's runs in all the relays, could run in individual events. But it's never about Lavocheya."

Arp is a small town with a high school enrollment of almost 300. It's located in East Texas, about 15 miles east of Tyler. Two football players from Tyler's 5A schools have also committed to Oklahoma State -- offensive lineman Gerron Anthony of John Tyler High and safety Chris Dinkins of Lee High.

In the Texas Football mag, the Tigers were rated No. 2 in Class 2A this season and picked to win one of the classification's two division state championships. In 2009, they reached the Division I regional quarterfinals and lost to Kirbyville 28-26 on a touchdown pass in the last two minutes. In 2008, they lost in Division II to Elysian Fields 19-13 on a TD pass on the game's final play.

Said senior lineman Dusty Taliaferro of the lofty predictions: "They don't mean anything unless you live up to 'em. You've got to work hard every day."

"We're not the No. 2 team right now," Irwin said. "We could very well be, but we go into every season wondering how we're going to win a game."

Cooper, quiet as he is, will certainly have his say in how far the Tigers go.

Jeff Miller is a freelance writer in Texas and can be reached at miller.jeff55@gmail.com.