Winona’s Blake Cooper had it all worked out in his mind.
After a solid sophomore season at running back, Cooper was officially the No. 1 back heading into his junior season last year. Cooper had run for 909 yards as a sophomore and was the featured back going into the season for the Tigers.
Then came the opening scrimmage of the season against Senatobia and Cooper was forced to the sideline with a severe ankle sprain, derailing his season.
“Last year, he turned his ankle in the first scrimmage game against Senatobia,” Winona coach Joey Tompkins said. “He wasn’t the same the entire year and then hurt it again and eventually had surgery. It’s just one of those things that it was nothing that he did. He got hurt and never came back from it and never really got to play. We played without our No. 1 running back the entire year.”
After the Senatobia game, Cooper was determined to get back on the field.
“The first game of the year against Eupora, I taped it up and tried to play and probably shouldn’t have played on it,” Cooper said. “After that, it just kept on giving me more and more pain. I kept on re-injuring it. I feel like I left a lot of yards and stats on the field last year.”
In that Eupora game, Cooper only had 16 yards on four carries. He got better against Kosciusko in week three with 72 yards on 15 carries and had 98 yards on 12 carries against J.Z. George in week four.
“He was never healthy last year even though he played some,” Tompkins said. “He limped every day in practice and then eventually he totally hurt it against Holmes County in the second division game and was out for the year. We know what Blake can do and need him to be the Blake of his sophomore year.”
After a 41-35 loss to Yazoo City in which Cooper only had five carries, Cooper followed that up with a 98-yard performance against Water Valley and had a season high 181 yards on 21 carries against Coahoma in a 56-40 win. Then came the Humphreys County game when Cooper re-injured the ankle and required surgery.
“He took it really hard,” Tompkins said. “He had a lot of success his sophomore year, when you have a lot of success, there is more than just you that had a part in that success. One he could run pretty good but he had a really good offensive line. He took it really hard when he got hurt. He was used to gaping holes and we had five new offensive lineman last year. He has the tools to be really, really good and is a good kid. We just haven’t seen a lot of him since his sophomore year.”
When Cooper went to see doctors the next week, he got devastating news that he would need surgery.
“It was tough on me,” Cooper said. “Once it happened, I went to sports medicine and they told me I was going to have to have surgery and my season was over. I started tearing up and that was the end of that year. They said my fibula was disconnected from my ankle and put some screws in it to reconnect it and I had some tendons and ligaments tore. I had to stay off of it for six months.”
Cooper spent two months in a soft cast and then another two months in a walking boot. But that time away from the game and the weight room has only stoked the fire for the senior running back.
“He is hungry, there’s no doubt about that,” Tompkins said. “And having the other kid in here that can run the ball has really stepped him up. They are both going to play a lot. And they will be friends because both of them are good friends. Blake will help Derioun (Townsend) a whole lot. He will be a good teammate and will also be a good player. “ Cooper admits that he went into the season somewhat cocky last year after rushing for almost a 1,000 yards as a sophomore. It’s a different story this year.
“It has given me something to prove this year,” Cooper said. “This is my last year to run up my stats and be a big part on the team. I’ve just got a lot to prove. People don’t really know that much about me. I don’t post a lot of videos, I just try to let my stats do the talking for me. Last year made me mad. I had a different mind set after that. My first time having surgery, I was worried if I could be as fast as I was or could I be as mobile as I once was. As of right now, it’s working out pretty good.”
Cooper will certainly have a big role in the offense this season. Gone is Memphis signee Andarius Coffey, who rushed for 1,665 yards and 24 TDs last year while passing for 2,064 yards and 23 TDs.
“Blake had a good 10th grade season,” Tompkins said. “He started for us a sophomore on a good 13-1 football team and we got a lot out of him. He was running behind a really good offensive lines, one of the best in the state. Blake was hungry and wanted the ball and ran hard. We need that Blake back this season and I think we will get it.”
Cooper, who is 5-foot-10 and weighs 180 pounds said he would like to play college football, perhaps at the junior college level but understands that education is a priority, something the injury opened his eyes up to.
“I don’t care where I go to school, I want to go to school and study kinesiology and be around sports,” Cooper said. “Playing sports would be a plus but education is the most important thing. I really want an education. I would like to trainer or a therapist. I want to be around the sports. I would like to be a therapist for a college team and go on the road with those guys.”
Through it all, Cooper is a changed player from a year ago, by his own admission.
“It’s been tough to deal with,” Cooper said. “It has certainly humbled me. I think I’m a humble person but this has been tough. I just want to make a big impact and want to teach the kids coming up. I know you can’t take anything for granted. I was taking stuff for granted that’s for sure. I just want to make a big impact and help the team.”