“Teddy and I talked [Friday]," Cooper said as he sat and fielded questions from reporters for about an hour during Media Day at Sun Life Stadium. “He said just go out there and do what I got to do. I’ve been dominating all season, just do what you do.”
At one point, Bridgewater and Cooper both dreamed of starring for the hometown Hurricanes. But as UM flopped and coaching changes took place, those plans never panned out.
Alabama is grateful. Tabbed the seventh-best receiver in the country by rivals.com by the time he graduated early and left Northwestern in January, Cooper became a quick study in Tuscaloosa. When teammate DeAndrew White went down with a season-ending injury in the fifth game of the year against Mississippi, it opened the door to Cooper for a starting job.
He has taken off with it. His 53 catches, 895 receiving yards and nine touchdowns are more than double anybody else’s stats on the roster. Even though he owns the freshman record for touchdowns and needs just 29 yards Monday night to tie Jones’ school rookie receiving record, he doesn’t think it’s a big deal.
“I don’t think they’re real big records, honestly,” Cooper said. “They’re just freshman records.
“My goal was 1,200 yards. I felt as if I should have had a bigger season coming in. The first four games I wasn’t a starter. I expected to be a starter the whole year. I knew from the first day of practice I could be; it wasn’t that hard to me. It was like high school. If I was able to compete, get some playing time, I could show that.”
Former Heisman Trophy winner Desmond Howard, now an analyst for ESPN, said Cooper isn’t just one of the best freshmen in the country, but one of his favorite receivers — right up there with USC’s Marquise Lee and Robert Woods.
“He has the best foundation of any freshman receiver in the country right now,” Howard said. “He has Peter Warrick’s top and go, but is faster than Peter Warrick ever imagined he could be. He has great ability to go up and get the ball, catch it at it’s highest point. He can go full speed, stick his foot in the ground, make cuts, so he’s a very good route runner.”
Notre Dame knows it can’t completely take Cooper away, but the Irish would like to limit the number of big plays he makes. Of Cooper’s 53 catches this season, 36 went for first downs and 26 went for 15 yards or more.
“We can’t have any replays of that last catch he made,” said Notre Dame safety Matthias Farley, referring to Cooper’s SEC title game winner.
Green, who plans on wearing an Alabama T-shirt with her son’s No. 9 on it to Monday’s game, would love for Cooper to come through with a couple big plays again Monday. The one time she saw her son play this season in person, Cooper caught five passes for 109 yards and two touchdowns against Auburn.
“We had a great time,” Green said of the trip up to Tuscaloosa. “After the game, I was really amazed with so many people wanting his autograph. He was like a rock star. I’m like, ‘This is just Amari.’ ”
A few more big plays for the Crimson Tide on Monday night, and Cooper could become the unofficial prince of Alabama.