6 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.”

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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.”

7 hours ago

Gov. Kay Ivey signs bill into law allowing alcohol delivery in Alabama effective later this year

MONTGOMERY — Governor Kay Ivey on Monday signed into law SB 126, which will legalize the home delivery of alcohol in the state of Alabama effective October 1, 2021.

Sponsored by Sen. Jabo Waggoner (R-Vestavia Hills) and Rep. Gil Isbell (R-Gadsden) in the respective chambers, SB 126 will create a licensing process that ultimately allows liquor, beer and wine sold at retailers to be delivered to residences, including by services such as Shipt, Instacart or DoorDash.

The new law contains limits on the amounts of each beverage that can be delivered, and deliveries can not be made to dry counties and dry cities.

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Deliveries of sealed alcoholic beverages under the law may occur from grocery stores, restaurants, breweries and other retail establishments licensed by the Alcoholic Beverage Control Board. Any alcohol delivered from a restaurant under the provisions of SB 126 must accompany a meal.

All delivery drivers carrying alcohol will be required to undergo a background check and must be at least 21 years old. The bill requires that a person age-21 or older must receive all deliveries of alcohol.

SB 126 received final passage by the legislature last week.

“Our legislation allows for alcohol delivery with strict, multiple layers of checks and balances in place. The legislation explicitly regulates that alcohol deliveries are made only to adults of legal drinking age,” Waggoner has said in a statement.

Isbell added, “Passing common sense rules for safe alcohol delivery in Alabama is smart all around – giving more options to consumers relying on delivery services while providing a boost to delivery workers and local retail businesses during a pivotal time.”

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

8 hours ago

The Frontier Industrial Innovation Conference set for April 13-14

The past decade has brought tremendous changes to businesses in industrial and energy sectors. Taking advantage of those changes to uniquely position and empower each sector to shape the future industrial economy is the objective of The Frontier Conference. The two-day event is being held virtually this year from The Frontier‘s home in Birmingham.

The Frontier is the only conference of its kind to focus on emerging technologies for all key industrial subsectors. Its goal is to forge connections and collaboration among industrial innovation stakeholders. The conference will include an exciting mix of innovators, executives, entrepreneurs, investors and up-and-coming leaders of the industrial world to think, talk and hear about ideas and technologies that are shaping the future of industry.

“The Frontier Conference is about solution-seekers who are shaping the future of industrial innovation,” said The Frontier founder Hank Torbert. “Our goal is to contribute to that process and help companies succeed by sharing ideas and innovations across sectors. That also helps us stay focused on emerging development and trends and ensure that we continue to provide all who attend with valuable information, access and opportunities.”

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More than 200 people have registered for the conference, representing 130 organizations and 17 major industries from more than 20 states and five foreign countries. Attendees include business leaders seeking capital, partners, customers, new lines of business and innovative solutions for specific functions, such as economic development.

The 2021 conference is the first for The Frontier since its move from New Orleans to Birmingham in 2019. Torbert called Birmingham “the ideal home for The Frontier,” given the city’s industrial history and its emerging status as an epicenter for development of future industries.

“Throughout its history, Birmingham has been a city of pioneers, builders, innovators and entrepreneurs,” Torbert noted. “Today, it is a major epicenter of industrials, as is Alabama as a whole, whether you’re talking about automotive, chemicals, transportation, aerospace or manufacturing in general. That energy fits with our goal of building an industrial innovation community across all sectors that allows for the collaboration and expansion of emerging ideas and technologies.”

Torbert said Birmingham benefits from both private and public leadership that understands the economic evolution underway worldwide and is committed to an approach to economic growth that is diversified, innovative, strategic and collaborative. That’s a key factor in Birmingham’s emergence as a national leader in creating and attracting jobs of the future, he added – an assessment that is endorsed by Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin.

“We understand that the industrial world is undergoing rapid transformation,” Woodfin said. “Birmingham’s commitment to innovation is part of our vision for helping our industrial sector remain competitive by transforming the ways they operate, compete and do business. We’re pleased to have The Frontier as a partner and a resource in our efforts.”

The growing energy for innovation in Birmingham extends to the rest of the state. Alabama continues to position itself for sustained success in the economy of the 21st century.

The state ranks third nationally in auto exports and has a strong presence in the chemical industry, where over 200 companies employ a total of more than 10,000 people, with annual exports exceeding $2 billion. Alabama also ranks among the top 10 states in the growth of biotech research funding, led by major research facilities in Birmingham and Huntsville.

In just the past five years, Alabama’s biotech startups have attracted well over $100 million in venture capital. At both the state and local levels, public and private entities are investing in workforce development initiatives to ensure a well-educated labor pool for new and expanding industries.

“Increasingly, Alabama’s innovation community demonstrates its commitment to the idea that we are here to work, learn and grow together,” said Greg Barker, president of the Economic Development Partnership of Alabama (EDPA). “Collaboration is an essential ingredient in our overall success, and we’ve seen that The Frontier is committed to helping those partnerships flourish.”

Along with EDPA and 30 other corporate and organizational partners, Alabama Power is a sponsor of The Frontier Conference. The conference will provide benefits from connections made and information shared, in addition to promoting the benefits of doing business in Alabama.

“We are constantly identifying new initiatives, products and services to meet our customers’ evolving needs,” said John Smola, director of Business Transformation and Administration for Alabama Power. “The Frontier conference provides an opportunity for us to learn from, engage with and gain best practices from other industry peers focused on innovation and customer offerings.”

To learn more about The Frontier, or to register for The Frontier Conference, visit thefrontier.co.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

8 hours ago

Seven-ton elephant statue takes its place outside Bryant-Denny Stadium

Tuska, a 19-foot-tall, seven-ton bronze elephant statue, was installed Monday in front of Bryant-Denny Stadium at the University of Alabama.

The newly named Tuska Plaza is at the southeast corner of Tuscaloosa’s University Boulevard and Wallace Wade Avenue. The project includes new landscaping, a large pedestal for Tuska to stand on, sidewalks surrounding the statue and lighting elements for nighttime viewing, UA announced.

The statue was recently donated to UA by the Tuscaloosa-headquartered Westervelt Company, along with a generous gift from Bill and Mary Battle.

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The statue was sculpted by English artist Terry Mathews and has resided at nearby NorthRiver Yacht Club for the past 20 years.

Tuska’s installation comes just in time for Alabama football’s annual A-Day scrimmage, which will kick off at noon on Saturday, April 17.

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

8 hours ago

Regions lighting up Birmingham headquarters building for annual Regions Tradition golf tournament

Regions Bank, title sponsor of the Regions Tradition, will light up the Regions Center in downtown Birmingham with the image of a golfer in preparation for the upcoming golf tournament.

Starting on Monday night at 8:00 p.m. CT, all four sides of the Regions Center will be lit with images of a golfer, allowing a 360-degree view from anywhere near the building. The 20-story light display will be lit daily from 8:00 p.m. to 12:00 a.m. and again from 5:00 a.m. to 6:00 a.m. through May 9.

This year’s Regions Tradition will be held May 5-9 at Greystone Golf and County Club. Enhanced protocols will be in place related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

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The tournament – even last year when it was canceled due to coronavirus – continues to be a major generator of charitable support and donations. In fact, the total amount raised in 2020 represented the largest amount raised in one year in the history of the tournament. Children’s of Alabama is the primary beneficiary, and other area nonprofit organizations also significantly benefit.

Overall, the event generates an estimated annual economic impact of $25 million statewide.

The Regions Tradition remains one of the premier stops of the PGA TOUR Champions, which is the men’s professional senior golf tour for those aged 50 and older. In fact, it is one of five majors on the tour.

The event will once again feature Hall of Fame-caliber golfers, as well as a celebrity pro-am with some of the biggest names around.

On the professional side, this year’s lineup is slated to include the likes of Jim Furyk, Ernie Els, Steve Stricker, Bernhard Langer, John Daly and Vijay Singh.

Celebrities set to participate include Nick Saban, Bo Jackson and Kirby Smart.

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

9 hours ago

Allowing lottery purchases through a cellphone is a terrible idea but the Alabama Legislature might do it

Another week is here, and that means we are into another week of gambling conversation.

Many discussions have already been had about what type of gambling we will have in the state of Alabama and who will benefit.

Will it just be a lottery and nothing more? Will it be casino gaming? Will there be sports betting? Will I be able to bet on WrestleMania? Will the Poarch Band of Creek Indians be happy? Will illegal casino owners across the state be happy? Will out-of-state investors want to come to the state and build casinos? Will the money go to the General Fund? Will the money go to education? Will the money go to ISIS?

Most people of the state of Alabama don’t really care about the particulars here. They don’t know that the Alabama Senate is about to substitute a “simple” lottery bill by Senator Jim McClendon (R-Springville) while Senator Del Marsh (R-Anniston) has a more complicated and comprehensive bill that would open up gambling in the state of Alabama.

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Personally, I don’t think the votes are there for any of this. There are too many competing factions that will not allow gambling legislation to move forward unless their side benefits, but at the same time they don’t want the other sides to benefit. This is why we are in a never-ending stalemate.

But missing in all of this is a very bad idea wrapped in a very vanilla idea.

No one is really concerned about the lottery. Over 70% of the people in the state appear to want a lottery of some kind, and support for other types of gaming is less but still there.

Most people view the lottery as a relatively benign thing. They want to be able to buy lottery tickets at their local grocery store and gas station while picking up other items. The average person will buy whatever they need at the store and then plop down a couple of one-dollar bills on chances to win a couple million in return. It’s a long shot, but it is simple fun and generally harmless.

Unless it is not.

The Alabama legislation, as currently proposed, would allow Alabama residents to purchase lottery tickets through their phones. While this seems generally harmless, I will remind you that to purchase lottery tickets this way you will need a credit card, a debit card or a direct link to your bank account.

So what?

What is the difference if I buy a lottery ticket with a $5 bill at the grocery store or if I do it via a smartphone app?

Good question with a simple answer.

If you allow people to buy lottery tickets on credit, people will buy lottery tickets on credit.

If you make it easy for people to drain their bank accounts to buy lottery tickets, people will drain their bank account to buy lottery tickets.

It is just human nature. No one in their right mind would go down to their local convenience store to buy $1,500 worth of lottery tickets, but if you allow them to do that by entering a passcode on their phone, they will do it.

Use of the transaction, the lack of the shame that is created by bringing in hundreds of dollars to risk on a pick 6 and the ability to do it all in the dark, make it far more likely.

This is a terrible feature of all the lottery legislation that has been proposed.

And conversations with McClendon and others make it clear that this feature — it is a feature and not a bug — will stay in the bills.

McClendon laid this out during a recent radio interview on WVNN in Huntsville.

Partial transcript as follows:

We have an entire generation that does life on their phone. They order lunch on their phone, they get their plane ticket on their phone, they call their Uber on their phone, they meet their girlfriend or boyfriend on the phone. This generation of people, they’re not going to stand in line at the “handy mart” to buy a ticket. And this business of buying an iPhone like lottery ticket is very common throughout the rest of the country, that is no big deal and it’s pretty sophisticated too…You download your charge card.

So simple, so easy, so … bad.

Our neighboring states, which we love to talk about because they already have the lottery, ban this practice.

In fact, of the 45 lottery states in the United States, only 21 allow this stuff to be done over the phone. This means that 24 states understand this to be an issue.

To make this even more clear, some merchants won’t allow this practice at their locations even if the state does.

It is because this is such a bad idea. Think about it — faceless corporations heard they could make money off of lottery tickets by accepting credit cards for them and said, “No, that’s a little sketchy and not good for the customer.”

There is a message here.

The lottery has been called “a tax on stupid people,” but that doesn’t mean we should allow the state to take advantage of them.

I know, I know, personal responsibility and all that. If someone wants to get a new credit card and max it out on Mega Millions, let him. After all, it is his money and his problem, right?

Kinda. But we should do all we can to help people make less disastrous decisions.

Look at it this way: We build roads on mountains and tell people that they need to go slower and be cautious because the risk is greater as we drive near the edge. The risk is yours if you head up there, so be careful.

But, we also put guardrails on the more treacherous parts of the path.

They operate as protection for both the dummies who want to whip around the roads for a thrill and for the Johnson family of five out for a weekend drive whose dad takes his eyes off the road to tell Timmy to stop hitting his sister. We don’t just shrug our shoulders and say, “Sorry, Timmy, you’re dead.”

For that reason, part of the bill needs to be tweaked in whatever form gambling takes in Alabama to put those guardrails up.

Listen:

Dale Jackson is a contributing writer to Yellowhammer News and hosts a talk show from 7-11 AM weekdays on WVNN and on Talk 99.5 from 10AM to noon.