It took Winona’s Blake Cooper awhile to figure out what was necessary to get onto the high school football field.
But once he did, Cooper made an impact for the Tigers, making him one of the Top 11 Players to Watch for the upcoming football season.
Cooper returns for his junior season after a breakout sophomore season. Even though Cooper was the third option in Winona’s high-powered offense, he still had a solid season. Cooper finished the year with 909 yards rushing and seven touchdowns on 112 attempts, averaging 8.1 yards a carry. Cooper had a season-high 140 yards on 17 carries against Tylertown to open the Class 3A playoffs and had long run of 58 yards against Morton.
Cooper is the fourth area athlete to be named to the Winona Times/Carroll Conservative Eleven To Watch for 2019 so far, joining Winona teammate An’Darious Coffey, Thomas Costilow of Winona Christian, and Cory Clay of J.Z. George.
“All he (plays) for us is running back,” Winona Coach Joey Tompkins said. “The sky is the limit with him, to be honest with you. He’s a great athlete and a good kid. He’s also a really good baseball player. He’s just a good ole country boy who’s going to do what you ask him to do. And he’s probably one of our fastest kids and weighs about 190 pounds so he brings some punch. He’s got two more years and he’s going to be a good player. We’re excited about him.”
Tompkins said he has always seen Cooper’s talent.
“He has always had the talent,” Tompkins said. “He just couldn’t remember stuff. He couldn’t remember how to do this or how to do that and couldn’t get on the field. So finally, he got comfortable with it and he had some good games against some good competition. It wasn’t all of a sudden. He just gradually got better and better and got more comfortable in the offense.”
Even Cooper realized he had to get more serious to get on the field and is passing that on to the younger players on the field.
“When you see the younger kids slacking in the weight room, you have to pick them up,” Cooper aid. “They want to skip reps and you can’t let them get away with that. I used to do that when I was a freshman but I realized I had to get serious about the weight room. I finally got in gear and when I got on the field, I saw where all the hard work paid off.”
Cooper, who stands at 5-foot-10 and weighs 182 pounds, runs a 4.6 in the 40-yard dash. Tompkins said Cooper wasn’t in the plans for the offense.
“We lost our running back in the spring and we came in here with all of the returning starters really without a proven running back,” Tompkins said. “We had Jay Lofton but he was more of a slot guy. We started the year out with him and another kid. But Blake just kept on getting better and better and better and he was our guy.”
With a year more maturity and experience, Tompkins is expecting even more out of Cooper.
“He’s not going to be a vocal guy, he’s just not that guy,” Tompkins said. “He’s not going to say much but he’s going to show you with his actions. I thought he picked it up a lot from the fall to the spring. He’s a year older as far as him understanding fevering and knowing what to do and then making sure the younger guys know what to do. I’ve been very pleased with him.”
And since that season ending loss to Seminary, Cooper knows he has to play a bigger role on the team.
“Since the last game was over last year, I knew I had to step up and be one of the team leaders,” Cooper said. “We lost a lot of players off last year’s team. It all starts right here in the weight room. We were really experienced last year but now we have a really young team.
“I just want to do my best and try to get looked at. I just want to be a leader on the field and show everybody what I can do on the field.”