Hear the story of Eastern Washington University's Cooper Kupp from his family, his coaches, and Kupp himself on what drives him to be best -- and what's next. Evan Closky and Darnay Tripp report. Custom
CHENEY, Wash. – Game after game.
Season after season.
Cooper Kupp has not just been the star of the Eastern Washington University football team – he has quite possibly been the greatest Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) player of all-time.
“I’m not going to let anyone outwork me,” Kupp said.
If you have ever watched the Eags play these past four years, one question remains:
How is a guy like that…. playing at a small school like this?
“When I got that call from Coach [Beau] Baldwin saying they had something, that they believed in me, that was huge,” Kupp said.
Cooper Kupp was born in Yakima, Washington. He is the oldest of Craig and Karin’s four children in a very athletic family.
“Had to put the football in his lap,” his mom, said, “because that’s where we knew he was headed.”
His grandpa Jake Kupp is a former University of Washington Husky turned pro bowl guard for the New Orleans Saints. Craig was a quarterback selected in the 5th round of the 1990 NFL Draft by the New York Giants.
“I don’t know if it was in the blood or something, but I was born with this passion for football,” Kupp said.
Kupp always had the mindset and skills to be great at any sport he played – he just did not have the body.
“You start off everyone is at the same level. I’m able to go out and compete with friends and feel good about what I’m doing,” Kupp said. “Then my friends start growing up and they’re up there slapping the backboard and I’m just trying to touch the net at basketball practice.”
They were not coming anytime soon for the 14-year-old.
“Being a late bloomer was probably one of the hardest things I’ve gone through in my life,” Kupp said. “The lesson I learned from that was, I was going to have to go out there and earn everything.”
Craig told his son that he was going to leapfrog the competition when he grew into his body, but he was also going to have to work.
“Get the skills down as close to perfect as you can, strive for perfection,” he told Kupp.
The undersized dreamer took that mentality to Davis High School where head coach Rick Clark was trying to jumpstart a struggling Pirates team.
“It had two winning seasons in 40 years,” Clark said.
Eastern Washington head coach Beau Baldwin remembers his first encounter with a young Cooper Kupp.
“My first memory was probably somewhere during football summer camp, out here running around, undersize skinny,” he said. “he didn’t have measurable in 9th or 10th grade. He’ll be the first to admit that.”
While Kupp did not look the part, Clark, who was on the coaching staff of Michigan’s 1997 National Championship team, knew this kid was going to be special.
“Tom Brady when I was there would work out from 3-5, he would come back at 7, and work another 4 hours in the fieldhouse throwing, watching film. That’s the way Coop was,” he said.
Kupp came on strong as an upperclassman and dominated his junior and senior seasons. During those two years he totaled 87 receptions for 1,814 yards with 23 touchdowns.
Kupp’s dad saw his son put up great numbers, and figured that would grab a lot of attention.
“The body and speed were the concerns, and you still hear that today that he was deceptively fast – whatever that means,” he said laughing.
The Kupp family did everything they could to market Cooper and that started with grandpa Jake’s alma matter at the University of Washington.
“We couldn’t get them to call us back and that was really frustrating,” Kupp’s dad said.
Coach Clark even helped out, reaching out to Washington State.
“I had worked with [head coach] Mike Leach at Cal Poly,” Clark said. “Mike was very interested. Mike liked him a lot but Mike had to honor [former WSU head coach Paul] Wulff’s commitments.”
Kupp’s last game at Davis High School was a 68-22 playoff loss to Mead High School. He had no college offers waiting for him at the end of that game.
“To just get steamrolled by those guys and walk off the field for the last time thinking I might not have that concrete opportunity to play at the next level, it was difficult,” Kupp said.
Luckily for Kupp, Beau Baldwin did not give up on that underclassman with no measurable.
“We started to not only see what he was doing on the football field but how he competed in basketball,” Baldwin said.
It is worth noting, Cooper was a leader on that 4A state title team.
His mom remembers when Kupp and his teammates all got matching shirts with nicknames on the back.
“The guys put ‘Biz’ on the back of his because he was all about business,” She said. “He didn’t really like that nickname,” she laughed.
It was that kind of attitude – along with a recent growth spurt – that kept the Eags interested in the best-kept secret in the state.
“Even though he was still under-recruited, we still felt like we had our number one,” Baldwin said. “We were kind of quiet about that, but we still felt like he was our number one.”
Cooper said his high school coach, coach Clark was the first to tell him that Eastern was going to offer him.
“I had a friend on the staff at Idaho State and recommended [Cooper] to them,” Clark said. “They offered a full and that’s when Eastern came back and offered a full.”
Kupp arrived in Cheney with no fanfare. No longer the poster boy for a scrappy small town program – he was back to being just another freshman who had to work for everything he got.
“I wasn’t going to be the guy that sat back and waited for someone to hand me a job,” Kupp said.
That was not going to happen with the team Kupp joined in 2012 – one well stocked with talented receivers.
They called them the big three. A trio of 1,000-yard wideouts in Nic Edwards, Greg Herd, and Brandon Kaufman. All whose presence seemed to make the plan for Kupp pretty clear.
“I think that was [the coaches’] mindset,” Kupp said.
His dad said it was the perfect setup for what he needed to do – until Kupp put on a show at fall camp.
“So you’re thinking, well jeez, that would be really fun for him to play,” his dad said.
“it really came down to being my choice and what I wanted to do,” Kupp said, “and I wanted to redshirt and be able to learn and develop and get faster and stronger.”
Coach Baldwin said it is really easy and more common sometimes to go into “redshirt mode” where the player kind of takes it easy. It would be the worst thing a hungry player could do and Cooper did just the opposite.
“He went after it like he was playing that weekend,” Baldwin said. “His mindset was always to be better the next day.”
The same drive that helped him reach his potential in high school, allowed him to elevate his ceiling in college.
“I knew he was going to have a chance to be really good, but as we watched him through that redshirt year it was no, it’s even better,” Baldwin said.
By the time spring football arrived, Kupp was ready to fill some large shoes.
“People are going well, what are you going to do losing the big three,” Baldwin said, “and all the while in my mind I was just going we got a guy that’s sitting here who hasn’t played a down who it’s going to be fun to see what he does.”
The fun began right away. Kupp has a 119-yard, two touchdown coming out party at Oregon Stage – a modest preview of what was to come.
“What shocked a lot of people and it shocked me too was to start seeing 20-plus touchdowns for a freshman receiver, you just don’t see that,” Baldwin said.
While others could not believe their eyes, Kupp’s freshman season played out just as he envisioned.
“I set my goals very high that year,” Kupp said. “If people aren’t doubting you, if people aren’t saying that’s ridiculous then I don’t think you’re setting your goals high enough.”
Even with all he accomplished in his freshman of the year campaign, Kupp never fell into the trap of complacency. One reason for that can be found in the final pass thrown his way that season.
(Note: The play in question happens at 2:13:13 in the above video)
“Against Towson, they just made a first down its fourth and five – the angle was just off. Trickles off his fingertips,” Kupp’s dad said. “If he makes that catch they go to the National Championship.”
The first real disappointment of Kupp’s career – an image that still remains a source of motivation.
“Every year the plan is to get the National Championship and every year that we don’t do that is another year that I feel we didn’t accomplish what we needed to so you flush that stuff,” Kupp said.
Kupp said he would tell himself that he had to get better, and it was an approach that resulted in one dominant season after another.
Coach Baldwin said they were spoiled in a sense by looking up and seeing his stat line. By the end of Kupp’s junior season he stood alone as the top player in FCS football – with the hardware to prove.
Kupp swept the Athletic’s Director, Walter Payton, and Stat’s Offensive Player of The Year award. What he did next grew his already outsized legacy.
I believe in this team and that God has a purpose for Anna and I here. Going to be a great year to be an Eagle! pic.twitter.com/vKu4YWzVTB— Cooper Kupp (@CooperKupp) December 1, 2015
“Had he come out they were going to draft him pretty high,” Baldwin said.
“It wasn’t an easy decision,” Kupp admits.
On November 30, 2015, Kupp let everyone know that he was putting his NFL career on hold, for one more year in Cheney.
Kupp called it a blessing to come back and play with his brothers and have the relationships he has with the people on the team and in the community.
“He didn’t come back for the records or anything like that,” his dad said, “he came back to be with his teammates.”
Of course, more records did come. Including the FCS mark for career receptions, which he set on senior day.
Cooper Kupp adds another FCS record to his illustrious resume as Eastern Washington beats Idaho State, 48-17, on Senior Day. Custom
That ultimate goal, the one thing he has not gotten his hands on during his Eastern career – a national championship – is still out there.
Kupp said if he could have it his way, he would definitely want to end his career with a national championship.
“If it doesn’t happen, that’s not what God’s plan is, and I guarantee you we will have done everything on our side of things that we could have,” Kupp said.
It is that mix of attitude and work ethic that has allowed Cooper Kupp to make a lasting impression on those whose paths he has crossed.
His high school coach said people still talk about Kupp all the time.
“Some of his teachers that weren’t even his coaches go to Eastern just to see him play,” Clark said. “He was that kind of a kid the one kind of kid you’re always going to remember.”
Baldwin said Kupp’s maturity and passion for others is what makes him a great human being.
“I make jokes to our staff that he’s more mature than most of us if not really all of us,” Baldwin said. It’s true how he goes about his business and how disciplined he is and how organized he is.”
A star athlete with the character to match his accomplishments.
Is there any doubt that Kupp is the best player to put on an Eastern uniform?
“Not in my mind,” Baldwin said.
In order to appreciate what Kupp has achieved, you must first understand what got him there.
“Passion can bring you a long way,” his dad said. “Belief and passion and if you have that, I wouldn’t bet against you.”
For Kupp, it has been a long road from the scrawny freshman in high school to how his story has played out now.
“It’s incredible,” he said. “I couldn’t have probably imagined a better eight years of my life.