5 years ago

As accolades roll in, Amari Cooper remains quiet, humble and destined for greatness

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Quietness can be an asset, and Alabama wide receiver Amari Cooper uses it better than anyone else.

His teammates say he’s a silent leader and a hard-worker. Others say he’s the best receiver in the Southeastern Conference, maybe the entire country.

He speaks in succinct, measured sentences that don’t leave anything open to interpretation. He doesn’t deal in the hypothetical, and is strikingly literal in press conferences. He lets his play on the field do the talking, and it speaks with a megaphone.

Ending the regular season, Cooper leads the nation in receptions and receiving yards, has 115 catches for 1,656 yards and 14 touchdowns, is the Biletnikoff Award winner for the country’s top receiver and a finalist for the Heisman Trophy.

He has surpassed every meaningful Alabama receiving record that exists, and he isn’t finished yet.

Cooper has waited his turn to become the next in line to star for the team, but those who saw him in high school knew he would get here eventually.

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Former Miami Northwestern High School head coach Billy Rolle drove Cooper to school every day for three years, and could never get him to talk. After three years, Rolle said he maybe heard 100 words from him.

Each day on his way to school, Rolle would pass Cooper’s house in Coconut Grove, Fla. and pick him up. He did this as a favor to Cooper’s mom — a cousin of Rolle’s — and as a favor to Cooper, who made the decision to play for him.

After being kicked off the football team at Coral Gables High School, Cooper transferred to Northwestern following his freshman year, but didn’t immediately excel. He starred in track and field and basketball, but it took a few years to reach his full potential in football.

His former high school quarterback, current Minnesota Vikings starter Teddy Bridgewater — who was a senior when Cooper was a junior — said he had five future division one receivers on his team that year including Cooper, admitting their team was unfair to play.

Behind all that talent, Cooper mostly returned punts and got playing time near the end of blowouts, but to get noticed he just needed the opportunity to start.

“We knew that he was going to be one of the next great wide receivers from my high school,” Bridgewater said. “It was just trying to give him a chance with all the talent that we had.”

After his senior season, Cooper and Rolle went on a trip to football camps to advertise Cooper’s abilities. They went to Georgia, LSU and Florida, making a final stop at Alabama, without much fanfare. Rolle said Cooper wasn’t officially invited to the camp at Alabama, but the two of them were passing through on their way back to Miami and stopped in.

That particular camp had a few highly touted cornerbacks who were the main focus of the group, but that quickly changed when Cooper went deep, and kept going deep for long passes. Rolle said he ran the same route every time.

“Amari burnt those guys the whole day,” Rolle said. “He got out the car, put his shoes on, and lifted off.”

This impressed Alabama head coach Nick Saban, who recognized Cooper’s talents after he saw Cooper dominating these supposedly great high school corners.

“We’ve had some good receivers that have been in our camps over the years,” Saban said. “I think he may have been the most impressive to me in terms of his ability, his ability to change direction and get out of a break, the quickness, the acceleration, the speed, good hands, hard worker.

“I walked away from that camp saying, ‘This guy may be the best receiver we’ve ever had.”

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Alabama football under Saban has typically revolved around a slow, methodical power running game and a stout defense. In years past, everyone in the stadium knew Alabama was going to run the ball, usually to repeated success.

This season, with new offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin, Alabama still has the ability to run, but the success of the offense relies on passes to Cooper. Everyone knows the ball is going to Cooper, and most of the time he catches it.

He was always a good player — especially his freshman year when he had 1,000 yards receiving — but the matchups and maneuvering Kiffin uses to highlight Cooper have led to this season’s drastic improvement.

“I have to give a lot of credit to Coach Kiffin,” Cooper said. “He’s a great offensive coordinator. He draws up plays to make sure his playmakers are in position to make plays.”

Cooper can’t be defended one-on-one, or by a zone. CBS Sports college football analyst and former NFL quarterback Gary Danielson says it’s actually harder to defend him with two guys.

On defending him, Rolle said, “You better send 10 guys.”

And if a team tries to remove him from the game, it leaves itself exposed to gains from Alabama’s other receivers or its run game.

“Once you put one person on him, you’re making a bad mistake,” Alabama safety Landon Collins said. “We don’t even do that in practice.”

Coaches have been trying and failing to stop him all season and all have marveled at his talent in their postgame press conferences. Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer said Cooper is one of the best receivers to play college football. Auburn tried to treat him like he was just another receiver and paid dearly for it.

“Everything I’ve ever learned about sports is you create a mismatch,” Danielson said. “That mismatch could be anywhere — left tackle, center, rush linebacker — and Amari Cooper creates such a mismatch that it distorts the field. They’re basically playing 10 on 9 1/2 because Amari takes a player and a half off the field every play.”

Bridgewater and Rolle have only seen Cooper improve in college. Using his size and speed, he never had to be physical in high school. But in college, Alabama and its strength and conditioning program have developed him into a much more physical player, which Bridgewater says is now one of his best assets.

“In high school, he really didn’t lift weights much,” Bridgewater said. “He just went out there and played off of talent. But you put a guy like Amari in the weight room — and he’s a guy who I’m pretty sure can lift the entire weight room — he’s going to get much more physical.”

Cooper’s physicality has become a key part of his game. He can block for other receivers downfield and take a safety out during a run play. He isn’t the fastest player on the field, but his route-running, field awareness and footwork get him open so that he can stretch the field and make the big plays.

“He gets in and out of his routes as good as anybody I’ve seen,” Danielson said. “He understands splits and discipline and setting up his defensive back, leaving room for the quarterback to throw the ball on deep plays, and understands how to find the soft parts of the zone. These are a lot of things that are unteachable.”

Pair a strong work ethic with innate ability and a coaching staff that can accentuate that to its fullest, and it creates a great player.

“I think he’s with one of the best coaching staffs in college football,” Bridgewater said. “When you have great coaching and a player like Amari who doesn’t say anything, he’s like a sponge, he just listens and everything soaks in.

“He’s destined for greatness.”

***

Cooper already holds every receiving record in Alabama school history, and has at least one more game in crimson and white.

He is the school leader in career receptions, single-season receptions, single-game receptions, career receiving yards, single-season receiving yards, single-season receptions, career touchdown catches, single-season receiving touchdowns, and single-game touchdowns. Cooper also set the SEC record for receptions in a season, and broke the record for most catches in an SEC Championship game.

Cooper is fortunate to play in this era of offense-driven football, with a coordinator like Kiffin who knows how to get the ball to him, but his numbers speak for themselves.

He never asks for the ball; it’s not in his personality. He knows that sooner or later the ball will come his way, and if he is asked to be a decoy or a blocker in the run game, that’s what he’ll do.

“He’s an incredibly humble, hard-working person,” Danielson said. “There’s no ‘Me’ in Amari Cooper. He’s a great teammate. He’s very coachable, and I’ve never even seen him come close to pouting or wanting the football. Those are attributes that any team would love to have of any teammate, let alone a wide receiver.”

Danielson puts Cooper third on his list of the greatest college receivers he has covered as a broadcaster, only trailing NFL stars Larry Fitzgerald and Calvin Johnson and ranking above A.J. Green and former Alabama standout Julio Jones.

Compared to greats like Jones, Ozzie Newsome, and David Palmer, Cooper may be the best receiver in Alabama history. He already is statistically, and with the College Football Playoff coming in three weeks, he will have more chances to solidify his place in the pantheon of Alabama football.

“Amari is not worthy of comparing him to anybody else,” Saban said. “He is Amari Cooper.”

53 mins ago

Huntsville-managed SLS program gets major boost; 2024 Moon mission closer to realization

NASA on Wednesday announced that it has officially taken the next steps toward the mission that will carry the first woman and next man to the Moon by 2024.

The agency is now committing to build Space Launch System (SLS) rocket core stages to support as many as 10 Artemis missions.

To accomplish this, NASA intends to work with Boeing, the current lead contractor for the core stages of the rockets that will fly on the first two Artemis missions, for the production of SLS rockets through the next decade.

The SLS program is managed out of Marshall Space Flight Center for NASA, while Boeing’s Huntsville-based Space and Launch division manages the company’s SLS work. SLS is the most powerful rocket in world history and the only rocket that can send the Orion spacecraft, astronauts and supplies to the Moon in a single mission.

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“We greatly appreciate the confidence NASA has placed in Boeing to deliver this deep space rocket and their endorsement of our team’s approach to meeting this unprecedented technological and manufacturing challenge in support of NASA’s Artemis program,” Jim Chilton, senior vice president of Boeing’s Space and Launch division, stated.

Tuesday’s announcement confirmed that NASA has provided initial funding and authorization to Boeing to begin work toward the production of the third core stage and to order targeted long-lead materials and cost-efficient bulk purchases to support future builds of core stages.

This action allows Boeing to manufacture the third core stage in time for the 2024 mission, Artemis III, while NASA and Boeing work on negotiations to finalize the details of the full contract within the next year. The full contract is expected to support up to ten core stages and up to eight Exploration Upper Stages (EUS).

“It is urgent that we meet the President’s goal to land astronauts on the Moon by 2024, and SLS is the only rocket that can help us meet that challenge,” NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine said in a statement.

“These initial steps allow NASA to start building the core stage that will launch the next astronauts to set foot on the lunar surface and build the powerful exploration upper stage that will expand the possibilities for Artemis missions by sending hardware and cargo along with humans or even heavier cargo needed to explore the Moon or Mars,” he added.

The core stage is the center part of the rocket that contains the two giant liquid fuel tanks. Towering 212 feet with a diameter of 27.6 feet, it will store cryogenic liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen and all the systems that will feed the stage’s four RS-25 engines. It also houses the flight computers and much of the avionics needed to control the rocket’s flight.

(NASA/MSFC)

Boeing’s current contract includes the SLS core stages for the Artemis I and Artemis II missions and the first EUS, as well as structural test articles and the core stage pathfinder.

The imminent new contract is expected to realize substantial savings compared to the production costs of core stages built during the design, development, test and evaluation phase by applying lessons learned during first-time builds and gaining efficiencies through bulk purchases.

“NASA is committed to establishing a sustainable presence at the Moon, and this action enables NASA to continue Space Launch System core stage production in support of that effort to help bring back new knowledge and prepare for sending astronauts to Mars,” John Honeycutt, SLS program manager at Marshall, explained.

“SLS is the only rocket powerful enough to send Orion, astronauts and supplies to the Moon on a single mission, and no other rocket in production today can send as much cargo to deep space as the Space Launch System rocket,” he concluded.

Wednesday’s news was met with a celebratory tweet by Senator Richard Shelby (R-AL), a champion for space exploration.

For the first three Artemis missions, the SLS rocket will use an interim cryogenic propulsion stage to send the Orion spacecraft to the Moon. The rocket is designed to meet a variety of mission needs by evolving to carry greater mass and volume with a more powerful EUS. The EUS is an important part of Artemis infrastructure needed to send astronauts and large cargo together, or larger cargo-only shipments, to the Moon, Mars and deep space.

NASA plans on to use the first EUS on the Artemis IV mission, and additional core stages and upper stages will support either crewed Artemis missions, science missions or cargo missions.

“The exploration upper stage will truly open up the universe by providing even more lift capability to deep space,” Julie Bassler, the SLS Stages manager at Marshall, advised. “The exploration upper stage will provide the power to send more than 45 metric tons, or 99 thousand pounds, to lunar orbit.”

The SLS rocket, Orion spacecraft, Gateway and Human Landing System are part of NASA’s backbone for deep space exploration. Work is well underway on both the Artemis I and II rockets, with core stage assembly nearly complete at Michoud in New Orleans.

Soon, the stage will be shipped to NASA’s Stennis Space Center near Bay St. Louis, Mississippi, where it will undergo Green Run testing, an integrated test of the entire new stage that culminates with the firing of all four RS-25 engines. Upon completion of the test, NASA’s Pegasus barge will take the core stage to NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida where it will be integrated with other parts of the rocket and Orion for Artemis I. Boeing also has completed manufacturing most of the main core stage structures for Artemis II.

“Together with a nationwide network of engaged and innovative suppliers we will deliver the first core stage to NASA this year for Artemis I,” Boeing’s Chilton concluded. “This team is already implementing lessons learned and innovative practices from the first build to produce a second core stage more efficiently than the first. We are committed to continuous improvement as they execute on this new contract.”

North Alabama also will play a leading role in other components of Artemis, including with the lunar Gateway and the new Human Landing System. Historic contributions to America’s space prowess are being made by several private sector partners in the Yellowhammer State, such as United Launch Alliance (ULA), Boeing and Dynetics.

Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

Episode 6: Interview with former Nine Inch Nails drummer Chris Vrenna

Dale Jackson is joined former Nine Inch Nails drummer Chris Vrenna to talk about how he went from the life of sex, drugs, and rock and roll to leading the music department of Calhoun Community College in Decatur.

Vrenna describes how his love of music took him all over the world, granted him the awards and adulations of millions, and how it made him a better teacher in 2019 in Alabama.

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Episode 30: Bye week recap, college football midterm

A rested DrunkAubie is back from the bye week ready to discuss South Carolina beating Georgia last week and the upcoming matchup with Arkansas.

In this episode, Rodrigo “Hot Rod” Blankenship goes to the eye doctor, Auburn Fans Anonymous and DA takes a college football midterm exam.

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14 hours ago

Black Alabamians should reject Doug Jones in 2020

Last September, just before midnight, Senator Doug Jones grabbed his phone, went on Twitter and in no more than 50 words, told the people of Alabama that he would be voting NO on the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to the United States Supreme Court.

Immediately, I was overcome with shock and indignation. Yes, more often than not, Senator Jones toes the party line; he votes against President Trump’s positions 84% of the time.

Naively, I assumed that with so much at stake, this time would be different.

Surely, I thought, he would be reminded of Brian Banks, an African-American senior at Long Beach Polytechnic High School who had just committed to UCLA before his career was destroyed by a false accusation of sexual assault.

Or maybe, the images of the nine black teenagers falsely accused of rape who collectively spent over 100 years in prison not far from where he grew up would cause him to demand, at the very least, a smidgen of evidence before casting blame.

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As he was pondering his decision, I was supremely certain he would hear the cries of Mamie Elizabeth Till-Mobley as she wept over the casket of her son, Emmett Till, who was abducted, brutally tormented, shot, folded in barbed wire and then dumped in the Tallahatchie River because he “whistled” at a white woman — a lie she recanted some 50 years later.

Surely, I thought, his years as a federal prosecutor, in which he routinely witnessed lives shattered over false accusations, might reignite his deep and profound respect for the sacred principle that, in our criminal justice system, one is innocent until proven guilty.

With his vote, Senator Jones endorsed a cultural movement which mandates that, even in the absence of evidentiary support, we must #BelieveAllWomen.

While seemingly well-intentioned, this categorical pledge should alarm Black folks in Alabama, as it stands to disproportionately affect us the most. Taking punitive action on the basis of accusation, and not evidence, is a philosophical regression that could awaken one of Jim Crow’s most destructive offspring: a society that values the voices spoken from white tongues over those from black ones.

The National Registry of Exonerations, in a 2017 report examining 1,900 exonerations over the past 30 years, determined that 47% of those exonerated were African-American, despite the fact that we make up only 13% of the U.S. population. In cases involving sexual assault, African-Americans constituted 22% of convictions, but 59% of exonerations. In other words, around half of the time, black men are wrongly convicted of sexual assault.

Realistically, if Kavanaugh is not afforded due process, despite being reared in some of America’s most privileged institutions, what chance do we have?

In a criminal justice system rife with inequalities, the presumption of innocence is often the only thing we can hope for. And Doug Jones’ philosophy — one that assumes guilt when accusations are made — is one that leads to the unjust imprisonment of men who look like me.

All survivors of sexual assault and rape deserve justice, just as the accused deserve one of America’s most potent protections: innocence until proven guilty. It is a cornerstone of American jurisprudence – one that separates us from brutal regimes across the globe and one that must not be relegated to a second-class status.

As election season is upon us and Doug Jones walks the streets of our neighborhoods and preaches to our congregations in the hopes of garnering our vote, remember that politics is more than just handshakes and speeches. Our votes, and the people they go to, have the power to turn ideas into reality.

Let’s vow to utilize that power to keep Jones and his destructive philosophy from creating more miscarriages of justice in our community.

Jalen Drummond is a native of Randolph County and alumnus of the University of Alabama

15 hours ago

Heaven to hell and back again: How faith, Nick Saban helped Tyrone Prothro get his life back

Three weeks. Just three weeks. That was the time between the greatest high of his life and the greatest low.

Today, 14 years later, the memories of two college football Saturdays please him, yet haunt him. From heaven to hell in a span of three weeks, and to this day, both places remain with him.

The greatest catch in the history of college football. A career-ending, gruesome injury just three weeks later: Tyrone Prothro is known worldwide for both, and the lessons he’s learned from the fall of 2005 have shaped the man that he has become.

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Man, was he speedy — a shifty offensive threat at Cleburne County High School, Prothro was listed at 5-foot-9-inches tall.

Most snickered when they saw his height listed as 5’9”, but it didn’t matter, because, in Heflin, Tyrone Protho was a giant — an unstoppable athlete who seemingly scored at will. And, a few years later when his signature football moment arrived on September 10, 2005, the then-Crimson Tide receiver was ready.

It was just before the half, and Bama quarterback Brodie Croyle was looking to send a message to Southern Miss as the home crowd smelled blood. Prothro smelled a big play, and boy, did he deliver.

As Croyle spotted a streaking Prothro down the field, Prothro spotted an opportunity. Up for the football Prothro went, collecting the football along with Southern Miss defensive back Jasper Faulk. As the pair tumbled to the turf, Prothro hung on as Faulk’s helmet was caught between the football and Prothro’s jersey. Tyrone squeezed the football like he had never squeezed a football before as he held onto the ball which was pinned against his opponent’s helmet.

In that moment, “The Catch” was born.

In the weeks that followed, Tyrone Prothro was not only the big man on campus, but rather the biggest story in America. Six months after The Catch, Twitter was born- –and oh, how that play would have gone viral if it had arrived a few months earlier. How big was that play? Prothro found himself in Hollywood the following July accepting the ESPY Award for “Best Play.” An ESPY for the kid from Heflin, Alabama? It was all so surreal.

October 1, 2005, brought to Tuscaloosa one of the biggest football games in recent memory. Three Saturdays after “The Catch,” Prothro was enjoying a performance for the ages. A first quarter 87-yard touchdown catch from Brodie Croyle? Why not? Prothro and crew led the Gators 7-0. Fast forward to the third quarter: Another Prothro TD catch from 16 yards and the Crimson Tide led 31-3. He believed that his life-changing season would continue.

Prothro’s life would indeed change, but it was not the change that he expected.

Late in the Florida game, Prothro went high into the air as he attempted to make another one of his circus catches. This time, as he landed awkwardly, his dream of playing in the NFL would be over. Prothro’s left leg snapped in half. A hush fell over the crowd as never before had Bama fans witnessed such horror, such sadness, such empathy. Through his pain, Prothro managed a thumbs up as he was carted off the field.

Yet just like that, football had left his life.

“Now what?” he asked himself. After all, Prothro had big dreams — but instead of preparing for the NFL Draft, Prothro found himself preparing for surgery.

And then another. And then another.

Prothro underwent a total of 12 surgeries, as he wasn’t concerned with playing football again, but rather walking again. And at the moment when Prothro felt as if all was lost in his life? In the midst of him questioning God?

More confusion arose, as that Alabama coaching carousel had his mind spinning: Dennis Franchione. Mike Price. Mike Shula. Joe Kines. Nick Saban. What in the world was happening in Tuscaloosa?

His football career was over — yet as his mind strained, his competitiveness kicked in: Tyrone Prothro continued working toward his degree.

The problem?

Focusing on his studies was not his strong suit. And as he looks back today, Prothro told the Huts And Nuts podcast that it was a man named Nick Saban who came to his rescue. Yes, the same coach for whom Prothro never played, the same coach who was forced to officially take Prothro off the Bama roster on August 3, 2007.

Said Prothro on the podcast, “My grades were falling and I was in the dumps. I had a meeting with Coach Saban and he told me that the best thing I could do was to get my degree. He then chewed me out in a second meeting and he helped me realize that it was the best thing I could do for myself.”

In August 2008, Tyrone Prothro graduated from the University of Alabama with a degree in Human Environmental Sciences.

It’s been 14 years since Prothro felt elation, 14 years since he felt despair. Yet today, he is a happy camper.

At the time of this writing, Prothro and his wife, Sidnie, were expecting the arrival of daughter Laila — she will enter the world as brother London welcomes her with open arms.

After taking a few days off, Prothro will head back to work as an offensive assistant coach with the Jasper High School football team.

Prothro advised, “If I can help one of these kids through my story, I feel it’s why I’m here. I’m going to help as many kids as I can.”

And of his shattered dream of playing in the NFL?

“I was projected to be a first-round pick. I’m not one to sit back and dwell on what wasn’t. All I can do is move forward and work like the next man, taking care of my family.”

Years after feeling an ultimate high and a heartbreaking low, the Alabama football family feels for Tyrone Prothro, as Bama fans are proud of how one of their own has handled adversity.

Prothro’s football life may not have been completed, but thanks to family, faith and a drive possessed by few others, he is now content.

“You just have to take the bull by the horns and keep plugging along. It will be then that it will all pay off,” he explained

Wise words indeed from a “Hero of the Game” and a man who will never forget those three weeks in 2005.

Listen to the full interview:

Rick Karle is a 24-time Emmy winning broadcaster and a special sports contributor to Yellowhammer News. He is also the host of the Huts and Nuts podcast.