As Prairie View A&M begins rebuilding at wide receiver, where the program lost three seniors, there’s likely to be some adversity along the way. That’s where wideout Deandre Cooper — a rising junior who’s seen his share — will be an invaluable resource for first-year coach Heishma Northern, a longtime assistant with the Panthers.
Cooper, who originally came to Prairie View as a defensive back, suffered a career-threatening injury as a freshman — eventually missing a season-and-a-half before returning in 2010 for limited duty. Despite the personal setback, though, Cooper kept himself in playing shape, and kept himself focused on the future.
“He took a funny hit in practice,” Northern told me. “We were having a special-teams walk through, and he was on the scout team at that time. One of the guys was going a little bit faster than anybody else. He hit Coop, and he just fell over backwards. He was having problems getting up off the ground. Coop said: ‘Coach, I can’t feel my right side.’ Later on, he gets diagnosed with a preexisting condition. Everything stopped.”
That didn’t last long. Cooper just wouldn’t be still.
“He didn’t play, but we kept him on scholarship,” Northern said. “All of sudden, you would see him out there running, then trying to sneak in on a pass skelly in the summer time. He was racing his teammates, always picking one of the fastest guys — testing himself. He asked if he could sign a waiver. He told me ‘I’m willing to take a chance. I just want to play football again, Coach.'”
Just before last season, Cooper was cleared by doctors to play again. Coaches tried to bring him along slowly but there was, Northern soon saw, no stopping Cooper. Given an opportunity to play receiver in the annual Purple and Gold Football Game at Blackshear Field in Prairie View, Cooper finished the spring sessions on a dizzying note, pulling down two touchdown passes.
“We moved him to offense so he wouldn’t be hitting so much; most of the time when guys get hurt, they are hitting someone,” Northern said. “The rest is pretty much history. He had an outstanding spring, and now has had an outstanding fall camp. He’ll be coming into the game as our No. 1 receiver.”
Fellow junior Spencer Nelson is the unit’s veteran returning presence, after finishing third on the team last year with 25 receptions for 323 yards and a score. But the locker-room leader, already, is Cooper.
“He is one guy who can tell everyone: ‘You never know when your last down of football is,'” Northern told me. “He can talk to the guys about taking advantage of every opportunity to get better — to keep pushing through, no matter how tough you think things are. Imagine how he felt when he was laying on the ground and couldn’t move. Yet he never gave up. That’s made Coop an inspiration to the other players. He’s the perfect example of taking advantage of your second chance.”
Prairie View A&M opens the year in the MEAC/SWAC challenge on Sept. 4 against Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference co-champion Bethune-Cookman.