Cooper is Alabama’s Big Catch
By BJ Bennett
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As kickoff for the BCS National Championship Game approaches, so does another grand opportunity for a receiver who has recently risen to every occasion.
It's an old football adage that by the end of your first season, you are no longer a freshman anymore. For first-year Alabama wideout Amari Cooper, that's proven to be especially true. As the 6'1'', Miami-native prepares for his high-profile homecoming, he will do so with the hype of being one of college football's most dynamic receivers. The Freshman All-American is the perimeter playmaker for the defending national champions, pacing Alabama in receptions (52), receiving yards (894) and touchdowns (nine).
Cooper has improved dramatically from the start of the season. Through three games with the Crimson Tide, the former standout for power Northwestern High School had just five receptions. After taking a few weeks to settle in to the college game, Cooper took off just as the SEC season started. He burst onto the scene with an 8-catch performance, two for scores, against Ole Miss. Three weeks later, he compiled record-setting numbers in one of the games Alabama's highlights on its calendar every single season. Facing rival Tennessee in famed Neyland Stadium, Cooper caught seven passes for 162 yards and two touchdowns, averaging over 23 yards per reception.
"Awesome," Alabama quarterback A.J. McCarron said of his freshman receiver after the 44-13 triumph in Knoxville. "Doesn't surprise me one bit. He can be as good as he wants to be. As long as he keeps working and keeps putting forth the effort, the sky's the limit for that kid."
In Alabama's last few games, Cooper has been as impressive as any wide receiver in the country. Take the Crimson Tide's past three games against FBS competition: 10th ranked Texas A&M, rival Auburn and 6th ranked Georgia in the SEC Championship Game. In those outings, Cooper combined to catch 18 passes for 372 yards and four touchdowns. Against those three SEC defenses, the freshman topped the 100-yard mark three times and averaged over 20 yards each time he caught the football.
Cooper's signature grab against Georgia stands as one of the most iconic plays of the 2012 season. With the Crimson Tide trailing 28-25 late in the fourth quarter, McCarron found Cooper for what proved to be a game-winning 45-yard touchdown strike along the sidelines. While Alabama's defensive finish would be the story of the game, Cooper performance stood alone. He finished with 8 receptions for 128 yards; no other Crimson Tide receiver had more than two catches or 22 yards.
"We took the shot and A.J. made a great throw and Cooper made a great catch," Saban explained of the score that ultimately catapulted the Crimson Tide into the BCS National Championship Game.
Not too long after the Alabama offensive coaches were watching Cooper's prep highlight tape, they are now looking his way when the game is on the line. It's been a rapid progression for one of the most naturally-smooth receivers in the game, one that is drawing comparisons to the impact young Julio Jones had on the Crimson Tide as a freshman back in 2009. Much like Jones, Cooper has gone from learning to leader seemingly overnight.
As kickoff for the BCS National Championship Game approaches, so does another grand opportunity for a receiver who has recently risen to every occasion. In one short year, Cooper has done more than just come back home. Already, he's come full circle.