In the late 1990s, Cooper Kupp’s idea of the gridiron was a perfectly placed patch of carpet — nestled between the front door of his childhood home and the dining room table. He estimates it was about 10 yards worth of space, but it would be just enough for him to rehearse for a position that eventually would make him nationally renown.
Over and over, his dad — Craig Kupp — would deliver Cooper the ball, and he would make use of every square inch of that precious carpet space.
“He’d come home from work, he’d get down on his knees and I’d run back and forth and catch as many touchdowns as I could,” Cooper told HERO Sports, just hours after returning to California following his Senior Bowl success in Mobile, Alabama. “If it was cold or dark out, that’s what we would do. I must have been five or six years old.”
It all started on that carpet, back in the late 1990s. Now, the Kupps are poised to join an elite NFL fraternity with four other families.
When the Eastern Washington wide receiver is drafted into the NFL this spring — and the projection is the second round by NFLDraftScout — he’ll be the third generation of his family to hear his name called, after his dad Craig (taken in 1990 by the New York Giants) and grandfather Jake (taken in 1964 by Dallas, pictured to the right with a young Cooper). That puts the Kupp family in rare company with the famous Matthews family. They’ll be the fifth three-generation NFL family (see chart below), and only the third family to have three generations selected in the NFL Draft.
“It’s very cool to be a part of the family I have, not just from the athletics side of things but also just the mentors that are in my family,” Cooper said. “The opportunity to look up to them has been pretty special, and to share that passion, too. I think that’s the coolest part to have that connection, that my grandparents, my parents and my brothers and sisters all have that shared passion.”
These past four college football seasons, Cooper has utilized every square inch of the red-carpet turf at Eastern Washington, as well as the turf of many other venues — including four Pac 12 fields where he combined for 11 touchdowns in four career games. His four-year run as an Eagles receiver was one of the most productive in FCS history, and in 2015 he won the Walter Payton Award — otherwise known as the Heisman of the FCS.
It’s always funny to watch the moment football fans realize — every spring, it seems — that smaller schools can produce such incredible talent. Cooper is coming off a week at the Senior Bowl where he turned everybody’s heads, not just the swiveling heads of the defensive backs he was torching.
It is the culmination of the passion, the desire and the work ethic this receiver has put into the game. Barely recruited coming out of high school, it has been the intangibles that have made him an elite NFL prospect and the No. 1 potential FCS draft pick. In a sense, he’s sort of going through that recruiting process all over again.
“I guess this is like (recruiting) in a way, like recruiting on steroids,” Cooper said.
Cooper is a part of a special family, not because of its football exploits, but because of its bond. The bond, the collective faith, the glow … it only takes a few moments to pick up on it in person. The family’s faith comes first, Cooper told HERO Sports — but football is a solid second in terms of what defines the Kupps. Cooper’s awareness of his grandfather’s NFL legacy began around the same time he was catching carpet touchdowns.
“When I was little, we called my grandfather Bumpa,” Cooper said. “So Bumpa has a mancave in his basement and he has all of the team MVP trophies and stuff like that down there. It was really cool to be able to look at all of that. To us, he was Bumpa first and NFL All-Pro second.”
Cooper recalls that in that trophy room, there was no rule that they couldn’t touch Bumpa Jake’s stuff. His grandfather encouraged them to try on his NFL helmet from his days playing with the Saints, when he once blocked for Archie Manning. The kids would run all over the house, running into walls with the helmet on — it was obvious their grandfather wanted them to enjoy the same things he enjoyed in his own youth.
It goes without saying that Cooper is proud of his background, and now, his collective family tree is grinning right back at him. In a January video interview with HERO Sports at the FCS national awards banquet in Frisco, Texas, Jake and Craig had wide smiles on when they talked about how focused a kid Cooper was, and how he’d bounce back quickly from any adversity.
All of this ability was evident during workouts at last week’s Senior Bowl, where Cooper said he connected with fellow receivers Trent Taylor (Louisiana Tech) and Zay Jones (East Carolina), while enjoying catching passes from quarterbacks C.J. Beathard (Iowa), Nate Peterman (Pitt) and Sefo Liufrau (Colorado). While in Mobile, NFL scouts and other onlookers saw a tenacious, crisp route-runner who seems born for the position. Now he’s back in California training with Rep1 Sports for the meat-market that is the NFL Combine, and later this spring he’ll move on to EWU’s Pro Day and individual team workouts and interviews. It’s all a part of the process of proving he belongs in the NFL — for a long, long time.
“I see myself as being a very reliable receiver, one who is able to play inside or outside and somebody you won’t have to take off the field in certain situations,” Cooper said. “I want to be productive every down, and I’m going to get open and create separation. I’m going to continue to get better and never be stagnant. I’m never going to be OK with myself as a receiver, every part of my game will see improvement.
“I believe that I can go to the next level and be a Hall of Fame receiver.”
THREE GENERATIONS OF NFL PLAYERS
NOTE: Matt Suhey was the grandson of his maternal grandfather Bob Higgins.
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