The Cougars hit pay dirt with their last quarterback from Utah - Luke Falk. Can they strike the lottery again with 2018 commit Cammon Cooper?
LEHI, Utah – Five years after Logan High quarterback Luke Falk joined the Washington State football team as an unheralded walk-on, the Cougars dipped back into the Utah recruiting pool and have come away with Cammon Cooper, who was recently billed by his high-school coach as “the greatest quarterback this state has ever seen.”
That’s quite a statement considering Falk will finish his college career as the Pac-12 leader in passing yards and touchdowns, and Utah’s Roy High produced two-time Super Bowl-winning quarterback Jim McMahon.
Cooper has the resume and stats to back up his coach’s bold proclamation. He took a team that went 0-10 in his sophomore year to a 12-2 record and Utah 5A championship during his recently completed senior season. And he shattered the Utah record book, claiming marks for career touchdown passes (118), completions (876) and the season records for passing yards (4,726 in 2017) and touchdowns (58 in 2017).
In four years at Lehi, Cooper has shown he’s a quarterback you can build a program around. His next challenge is to join an established WSU program and show that, in time, he can compete for the starting job.
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Cooper committed to WSU in May and is expected to sign a national letter of intent with the Cougars when the new early signing period begins Dec. 20. He plans to enroll at WSU for the spring semester.
At 6 feet 5 and 210 pounds, Cooper is an Elite 11 quarterback and Rivals four-star prospect who’s WSU’s most highly touted quarterback recruit since Tyler Bruggman in 2013. (Though, as a side note, everyone knows how that worked out.)
But stats and accolades aside, Cooper’s high-school coach, Ed Larson believes his quarterback has the tools to compete at the next level.
For one, Cooper epitomizes the underdog mentality that’s woven so tightly into WSU’s DNA.
Before Larson took over as Lehi’s coach in 2014 — Cooper’s freshman year – the Pioneers were struggling, finishing 5-5 in 2013 and posting back-to-back winless seasons in 2009 and 2010.
“They had kind of been losing for years,” Larson said. “We had always been good from the standpoint of young people coming through, but they wouldn’t stay here because we weren’t successful. My first year I was here, there were eight starters at different high schools that were (originally) Lehi kids.”
Cooper was integral in changing the perception that talented football players who grew up in Lehi had to go elsewhere to have successful prep careers.
Twice in his career, as a freshman, and then again as a junior, Cooper was faced with the decision of whether to stay at Lehi or leave. Each time, he stayed.
Going into the fall of 2016 a new high school, Skyridge, opened four miles north of Lehi and started a football team. The Lehi football players had decisions to make: Stick with the Pioneers or leave to play for the new school.
“I was actually in the boundary to go to Skyridge, but I stayed because of friends and because I’ve always grown up wanting to play for Lehi,” Cooper said this month. “Half the team stayed, half the team left.”
One year later, Cooper led the Pioneers to a 55-17 win over Skyridge in the Utah 5A final to clinch Lehi’s first state championship since 2000.
“Him staying here kept the athletes here,” Larson said. “At any level, the quarterback sets the stage for the program. It was no different here. If Camm’s at another school, I guarantee 12 of these guys aren’t here.”
With his rare combination of size, finesse, accuracy and a solid arm, Cooper had no shortage of suitors during the recruiting process. But Cooper earmarked WSU as a program of interest because he wanted to play in coach Mike Leach’s Air Raid offense, which is similar to the high-school offense Larson engineered based on principles adapted from LaVell Edwards’ BYU teams and Bill Walsh’s West Coast offense.
Cooper sent his film to WSU and followed assistant coach Eric Mele on Twitter. Mele responded positively and in April, Cooper and his family visited WSU.
Cooper committed to the Cougars in May over offers from more than a dozen schools, including Tennessee, Georgia, Ole Miss, North Carolina, Louisville and Arizona State.
“I wanted to commit early to focus on my senior year, and it’s paid off,” Cooper said. “I think it was a good decision.”
Cooper will join a Cougars team that’s about to lose Falk, a three-year starter. Tyler Hilinski is the presumptive leader to win the starting job next season as a junior. The Cougars will begin spring football in 2018 with Hilinski as the only returning quarterback with live game experience. Hilinski has been Falk’s backup for two seasons, and he played in 11 games this year, coming off the bench against Boise State to throw three touchdown passes and lead WSU to a rousing comeback win in triple-overtime.
But the job to back up Hilinski is wide open. Trey Tinsley and Anthony Gordon will be juniors, and Connor Neville and John Bledsoe will be redshirt freshmen. Could Cooper compete with them as a true freshman?
That’s what Larson wants to know. In high school, Cooper won the starting job his sophomore year in part because his main competitor suffered a knee injury before the season began. Cooper has performed well enough to keep the job throughout, but he’s also never been pushed by an equally gifted quarterback, Larson said.
“This has been his program since he came here,” Larson said. “So he’s gonna have to compete (at WSU). And you never know how a kid is gonna handle that until he goes through it. Some kids can’t do that. That’s why they don’t pan out.”
Cooper is by nature a calm, laid-back guy who isn’t easily flustered, Larson says. That’s a great temperament to have when you need your quarterback to lead a game-winning drive, but Larson has also pressed Cooper to be a more vocal leader off the field.
“I tell every college coach who comes through, ‘If I gave you Camm’s reaction to every touchdown pass or interception, you’d be hard-pressed to tell me what he even did.’ He’s very even-keeled,” Larson said. “But I just want him to be a little more vocal with his teammates, because football is so emotional.
“If you have a scale between Peyton Manning, who’s very vocal, and Eli Manning, who’s the opposite, right now, he’s more the Eli kid. I want him to take that (the other way) a little bit more. And I think it’ll come with maturity. At some point, the switch will flip. He’ll get there.”