Anthony Cooper is clearly not looking to duck the hype of being one of the Ozarks’ top football players. In fact, the quarterback is reveling in it.
“I actually enjoy it because my expectations, for myself anyway, far exceed what anyone else has for me,” the Kickapoo senior said. “There are lots of things I can still prove to myself and I can’t wait to get started.”
The 6-foot-2 gunslinger has been chomping at the bit all summer. Cooper started all 11 games for the Chiefs a year ago and emerged on the recruiting scene during that 6-5 campaign. With a week to go before season-openers, many eyes will be on him, and for good reason.
Cooper took advantage of that momentum this summer, traveling across the Midwest to college camps and national showcase events. Additionally, he spent hours working with national quarterback guru Skip Stitzell — whose pupils include Mizzou’s Blaine Gabbert and Corbin Berkstresser — in hopes of raising his profile.
“The biggest difference it made in me is my footwork and my throwing form,” Cooper said. “I’m so much more accurate this season, and I’m looking forward to putting it out there on game night.”
His first shot comes tonight as the Chiefs travel to Branson for a jamboree with McDonald County and Aurora. Kickapoo opens for real at home against Parkview on Aug. 30.
“The big thing I see in (Cooper) is that he’s more confident and he carries himself differently,” Kickapoo coach Joel Wells said. “He definitely understands the game better than he did a year ago.”
It’s fair to say Cooper has blossomed in the past 12 months, and that’s explains his growing list of interested colleges. He had a phone call from a University of Illinois coach earlier this month and has had significant conversations with Northern Illinois, Southern Illinois, Eastern Illinois and Southeast Missouri State. Several NCAA Division II schools have also shown interest.
According to Cooper, a good start to the season is imperative.
“The first three games are very vital to helping decide where I go to play in college,” he said. “But I like that pressure, especially with the team that I have around me.”
Cooper’s improvement coincides with one of the most complete set of skill position players Kickapoo has seen in years. Receiving options for their star quarterback are plentiful. Senior Corbin Harris is a possession guy. Seniors Trey Raynor and Taylor Simmons are big targets down the middle and senior newcomer Jamariqune Green will test Cooper’s ability to throw the long ball.
“Jamariqune is definitely going to be a stretch-the-defense guy, but we’ve got some other kids that we feel like, while not quite as fast as him, are pretty good receivers,” Wells said. “I think we’ll be very unpredictable because there’s not a lot of drop off. We’ll try to play fast with a no huddle, and I think our skill guys will be able to wear some people down.”
A talented stable of running backs in seniors John Fuchs and Kelton Reeves, and junior Tony Grant will give Cooper the keys to one of the more talented offensive machines in the area.
“I’m looking forward to that first game, to letting it rip for the first time this season,” Cooper said. “Part of it is that with 24 seniors, I think we can advance in the playoffs and win the conference. We’ll have some tough games, but I think we are good enough to do that.
“And the more success we have as a team, the better my chances are to play at the next level.”