4 years ago

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

MFB
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.”

***

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.”

24 mins ago

Marsh bill to repeal Common Core approved by Senate committee

MONTGOMERY — Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh’s (R-Anniston) bill to eliminate Common Core in the state of Alabama was given a unanimous favorable recommendation by the Senate’s Education Policy Committee on Wednesday.

The bill, SB 119, is now set to be debated and considered on the Senate floor Thursday.

Marsh spoke about this bill during Yellowhammer Multimedia’s “News Shaper” event in Montgomery Tuesday evening after he filed the bill earlier that day.

He acknowledged that he has been a proponent of letting the state school board set education curriculum and standards policy in the past and even stopped an effort to repeal Common Core a few years ago. However, in Marsh’s view, Common Core has been given a chance now and it is time for the legislature to step in.

“It’s not working. I think we have to have some radical change with education policy in this state. And y’all know me, I’ve pushed a lot of things –  public charter schools, the Accountability Act. We’ve got to address this issue and it’s critical for this state,” Marsh said.

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He said eliminating Common Core would “clear the field” so the state could then move forward to better education outcomes.

Alabama would come up with its own high standards, premised on local control, under Marsh’s proposal.

He said his bill is cosponsored by all 27 of his Republican Senate colleagues and he expects SB 119 to pass the chamber and then receive similarly strong support in the House.

“I am committed to moving to a different standard that’s right for Alabama and moves us forward,” Marsh emphasized.

He also advised that there is a high level of politics involved in education decisions in the state but that sound policy must come first.

“[T]he education community, who I’ve asked to get this fixed, who have not addressed this, quite honestly I don’t think has put us in shape to move forward to address the problem at present. But I’m going to do all I can to see that it happens,” Marsh added.

Democrats on the Senate Education Policy Committee spoke in favor of keeping Common Core on Wednesday.

A career public school teacher from Lee County spoke in favor of eliminating Common Core at the hearing, while representatives from the state school superintendents association and the school boards association had concerns about the implementation of new standards.

Marsh said his bill will be amended before a vote by the full Senate to allow another national standard to be used if found to be best for Alabama, as the current language in his bill would ban any national standard from being adopted by the state school board.

Update, 11:35 a.m.:

State Sen. Sam Givhan (R-Huntsville) released a statement in support of Marsh’s bill.

“I strongly support Senator Marsh’s bill,” Givhan said. “The Common Core standards just haven’t worked for Alabama’s students, and the proof is evident in the data. In 2017, Alabama’s 8th grade math scores ranked 49th among the 50 states, and math scores for 4th grade students were 45th in the nation, according to the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). Common Core’s curriculum standards and guidelines have been in place for nine years, and they have failed Alabama’s students. It’s clear we need to look at alternative educational methods, with an emphasis on returning as much control as possible back to the local school districts.”

Sean Ross is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

59 mins ago

Marsh, McCutcheon talk lottery, ethics clarifications at Yellowhammer ‘News Shaper’ event

MONTGOMERY — Speaking Tuesday evening at Yellowhammer Multimedia’s first “News Shaper” event of 2019, Alabama Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh (R-Anniston) and House Speaker Mac McCutcheon (R-Monrovia) provided their insight on some of the hot-button topics expected to be debated during the legislature’s ongoing regular session.

Yellowhammer owner and editor Tim Howe, who moderated the discussion, outlined uncertainty in the state’s ethics laws brought on by recent court and ethics commission decisions. Howe then asked the two leaders how they think the legislature can provide certainty and codified clarification moving forward, especially when it comes to defining a “principal.”

“There is no doubt that there’s a lot of uncertainty in the ethics legislation,” Marsh said. “The [Alabama Code of Ethics Clarification and Reform Commission] was set up to look over this, but in addition to that, both the Senate and the House – in the Senate you have Greg Albritton and in the House [you have] Mike Jones – working throughout the entire break on how we address this.”

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“And remember,” Marsh continued, “it’s not about 140 legislators, there are 50,000 people in the state of Alabama affected by the ethics law. I’m going to make a plea to my colleagues, some of whom are in this room tonight: If it’s going to be fixed, we’ve got to fix it.”

He emphasized, “[I]t’s not going to get any easier. You’ve got to face the issues. You’ve got to address it and realize this is about much [more] than the legislature. So, I’m hopeful.

Marsh also noted that the uncertainty in the ethics law has “affected economic development.”

“There’s a section there where the economic developers are having problems keeping the [confidentiality] in the process of recruiting industries. We’ve got to address this,” he advised. “And I’m hopeful that we will address it this year.”

Marsh added, “I know that both Senator Albritton and Representative Jones have been in conversation with the attorney general and the ethics commission, as well. So we’re going down a path to try and get everybody on the same page. But we have got to -trust me, ladies and gentleman – we have best fix this. It’s got to be done.”

Howe then asked Marsh to articulate why certainty in the ethics law for economic development professionals is important not just for them, but for the entire state and each of its residents.

“[I]t’s important for the state, because we’re competing with all of the other states,” Marsh said.

He used the example of a piece of legislation passed out of committee that very day largely dealing with Polaris vehicles built in north Alabama and explained that the site selection process requires confidentiality, with most economic development recruitment projects being given code names.

“Because we’re competing against other states. And if we’re not able to keep that degree of secrecy at that stage of the game, we’re at a disadvantage to our neighbors,” Marsh explained.

He concluded, “So this is something that we have got to address. But I’m going to say this: that’s [only] a piece of it. And there’s going to be an attempt by the business community and economic developers to pass the piece. But I think it’s [incumbent] upon us to pass the big picture, solve all the problems, because you want as many people with you, supporting you, to make the changes. Every time you carve off a little piece, you lose some support. So, as I said, I want to help everybody, but I’m committed to the big picture.”

Lottery

Howe later asked the speaker if the time has come for a lottery proposal to pass the legislature and reach a referendum of the people.

“I think so,” McCutcheon responded. “I think it’s been coming for several years. I know that the districts, House districts, that are [bordering other states], most of those districts have seen a significant shift over the last seven or eight years because they see Alabamians driving across the state line to buy lottery tickets.”

He continued, “And people are starting to talk about it, and they’re starting to make it part of their discussion around the dinner table. … At the end of the day, there’s a good push from the people.”

McCutcheon did emphasize what he viewed as key to a successful lottery discussion.

“If we’re going to put this to a vote of the people, and I think it has a good chance of passing, we need to make sure that people understand what they’re voting on,” he outlined. “That’s very, very important. We don’t want to cloud the issue with the definition of a ‘lottery’ and try to sneak something in the back door. Let’s make sure the people understand in their minds what a lottery is and we define it in such a way that they know what they’re voting on.”

“Then, I think the next big debate will be, ‘Where’s the money [lottery revenue] going to go?’ And that will be something that we’ll have to contend with,” McCutcheon concluded.

This came the same day that Senator Jim McClendon (R-Springville) filed a lottery proposal that was soon after called not “clean” by the Poarch Band of Creek Indians, who said McClendon’s legislation would legalize slot machines in a select few places in the state.

Watch the entire discussion:

Sean Ross is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

After 133 launches, Alabama built rockets boast 100% mission success

Thank you to the United Launch Alliance team and the entire workforce surrounding another successful launch.  Alabama’s Decatur based facility brings the utmost precision, passion and purpose to one of the most technically complex, critical American needs: affordable, reliable access to space.

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2 hours ago

Bipartisan bill to regulate vaping set for House committee hearing

MONTGOMERY — Alabama is currently one of only three states to not regulate vaping, but that could soon change.

HB 41, sponsored by Republican Rep. Shane Stringer and Democrat Rep. Barbara Drummond, both of Mobile County, is on the House Judiciary Committee’s agenda for Wednesday afternoon.

The bill would regulate the sale, use and advertisement of vaping – or “alternative nicotine products” – in the state.

In an interview with Yellowhammer News, both Drummond and Stringer emphasized that their bill is intended to protect the health and wellbeing of Alabama minors.

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“The motivation is simple,” Drummond emphasized. “We are trying to safeguard the teens in the state of Alabama.”

She outlined, “Vape shops, as it stands right now, are not regulated at all… And the bill came about because our drug education council locally brought it to our attention, but [Stringer and I] have both seen ourselves, as well as throughout the whole state, the rise of vape shops. They’re popping up everywhere in the state of Alabama.”

While it is too early to tell what vaping is directly doing to users’ health, Stringer and Drummond emphasized there is an objective gateway effect from vaping use and to smoking traditional cigarettes.

“Right now, there is no data that says what is the [direct] effect that these products are having on our young people. What we are seeing, and this is a national trend, is that you’re seeing smoking not going down, but increasing, among young people,” Drummond explained.

Stringer, a career law enforcement officer with stints as chief of multiple local police departments, said educators from every corner of Mobile County have voiced their concerns with the lack of state oversight on vape products and retailers “saying this is an epidemic and a problem what we need to address.”

“The products haven’t been out long enough to know the problems we could face in five, ten, 15 years from now,” he said. “It’s pretty similar to when smoking came out. There was basically no risk at that time, according to everyone. Now, look at all the data that we have to go with smoking… this is a new product we’re learning every day about.”

Stringer said statistics they were shown from the drug education council show an approximately 34 percent increase in children under 19-years-old that tried smoking after vaping.

“In Alabama, we don’t want to wake up one day and see the effects, negative effects on our kids,” Drummond added. “Right now, we’re trying to be responsible legislators to make sure that we look out for the welfare of our children.”

The two lawmakers also stressed that not only do vape shop operators have no restrictions on them, but the state has no way to even keep track of them currently.

Their bill would make it illegal to sell or give vape products to anyone under 19-years-old. The Alcoholic Beverage Control Board would regulate retail sales of the products, just as they do tobacco products. Retailers would have to obtain an annual permit, which includes an application fee of $300. Retailers would also have to comply with relevant FDA regulations and post signage warning of the dangers of nicotine usage.

Using vape products in certain places, including schools and child care facilities, would be prohibited.

‘This is something that is nonpartisan, it’s not anything that is about Republican or Democrat. This is something about our young people,” Drummond said. “Because if you look at the amount of nicotine that is showing up in these products, when they first hit the market, the nicotine levels were very low – like five percent. Now, it’s gone up to about ten percent. They’ve got other chemicals in there, like formaldehyde. What is the effect of that upon the brains of our kids? So, this is more of a public wellbeing bill for us.”

Stringer advised that he foresees widespread support in the legislature for the bill.

“Everyone agrees that there has to be some checks and balances [oversight] in place,” he concluded.

Sean Ross is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

2 hours ago

House Majority Leader Ledbetter predicts Alabama to ‘move to number one’ nationally in automotive production after Port of Mobile expansion

Tuesday on Huntsville’s WVNN radio, House Majority Leader Nathaniel Ledbetter (R-Rainsville) said he did not think it would be very long before Alabamians started to see tangible benefits of the Rebuild Alabama Act.

The legislation that was recently signed into law by Gov. Kay Ivey after she called a special session will raise the gasoline tax six cents in September, then add an additional two cents in 2020 and 2021.

According to the DeKalb County Republican, road projects could start as early as the summer given the bill will allow for counties to bond half of the revenue the additional tax will generate that is distributed to the counties.

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“I really think it will be this summer,” Ledbetter said. “I think we’ll see it immediately, and the reason I say that is inside that bill there is a mechanism that the counties can use half of their money to bond with. So, I know there’s mine – I talked to the president of my county commission, and we’re looking at bonding half of that money. So if that happens, you’re going to see a lot of paving going down, and I think it will be significant, especially on those roads we can’t get buses across, or you know, the transportation has been limited due to the fact of the road conditions.”

Ledbetter also predicted one of the aspects of the law, which is to expand the Port of Mobile, will generate a positive impact statewide, especially with regards to the automotive industry.

“I don’t think there is any question about that,” he said. “The thing I think we’ll see – Alabama rank third as far as automotive manufacturing in the country. I think we’ll move to number one. I really do. I think this is that big of a game changer. I think aerospace engineering, and some of those jobs going to the port, building airplanes and building the ships – we’re going to move up the ladder because we got availability in the port to bring the ships in and out, the post-Panamax ships we hadn’t seen.”

“You know, the sad part about it is we build all these automobiles in Alabama – a lot of those were being shipped out of Savannah because we can’t get them out of our port,” Ledbetter added. “I think once this happens, we’ll see the roll off-roll on where we’ll be carrying cars to Mobile from Huntsville, from Lincoln, from here in Montgomery to see them delivered, or shipped out from Mobile.”

@Jeff_Poor is a graduate of Auburn University, the editor of Breitbart TV and host of “The Jeff Poor Show” from 2-5 p.m. on WVNN in Huntsville.