Redshirt freshman Darian Cooper represents what many feel is part of the problem for the Iowa defensive line, but also part of the solution.
He has no game-time experience, but he has shown enough potential in practice to be listed as a co-starter heading into the 2012 season.
None of the Iowa defensive linemen outside of senior Steve Bigach and junior Dominic Alvis have earned a letter in college or have much game experience.
Replacing all-Big Ten tackle Mike Daniels, who is now competing for playing time as a rookie with the Green Bay Packers, is a top priority, and the 6-foot-2, 280-pound Cooper could be just the person to do it.
He and Daniels have similar builds, but Daniels already has been here and done it at a high level, while Cooper has only done it in practice.
“I’ve heard it, but I’m not really concerned about things like that,” Cooper said of the criticism directed toward the Iowa defensive line. “The defensive line, we’ve been working hard all summer like anybody else on our squad. So we’re just going to work on improving and being our best.”
Trying to be his best is why Cooper chose Iowa.
He grew up in Elkridge, Md., in the shadow of the Baltimore-Washington International Airport and also near a busy interstate. Noise was Cooper’s constant companion until he came to college.
“At home in Maryland, it is such a faster pace,” Cooper said. “People are just moving a hundred miles per hour. It’s more big-city living. Out here, it’s just a lot slower. I wasn’t really used to not hearing cars go by.
“I’m hearing cars go by every night at home. Out here, you don’t really have that. It’s a lot quieter. I just wanted to come to a place where I could sit back and focus and really just hone my craft and better myself.”
Cooper is part of a new wave of Iowa defensive linemen who are being asked to step it up in a hurry. Iowa has lost three starters on the defensive line in each of the past two seasons leaving the four positions filled with uncertainty.
“Coop has shown in spring football that he’s got some good ability,” said Reese Morgan, who switched in the offseason from coaching the Iowa offensive line to the defensive line. “I think Coop is a very coachable young man that certainly has a lot of work to do.
“But he is a guy that brings energy. I think he’s got some toughness. He listens well. And I think he’ll develop into a very good football player.”
Morgan and Cooper agree that Cooper has benefited from being redshirted last season.
“It definitely helped me,” Cooper said. “It allowed me to get bigger, stronger and faster.
“It allowed me to process the defense more and take information from the older guys who were playing.”
Morgan said Cooper could’ve helped on the defensive line last season, but it was better to ease him into the transition from high school.
“I think it’s helped him quite a bit,” Morgan said of Cooper being redshirted last season. “He was in a position where he probably wasn’t ready. He might have been ready a little bit on the physical side of coming off the ball, but not knowledge-wise and knowing the schemes and what to do and so forth.
“So I think the spring has been good for Coop, and Coop is a guy that’s going to play for us. What role he plays, he’s going to have to determine that with what he’s done in practice. But I think Coop has really been a very good young man. He’s very young, he’s very raw, but he has great potential.”
Cooper played at perennial power DeMatha Catholic High School in Hyattsville, Md. He was named the defensive MVP for the Baltimore area as a senior.
He is also among six Maryland natives who have signed with Iowa since 2010, including three from DeMatha.
One of the three from DeMatha, running back Marcus Coker, since has transferred to Stony Brook after leading Iowa in rushing last season. The other, defensive back Jordan Lomax, is expected to miss the 2012 season because of a shoulder injury.
Cooper’s choices came down to Iowa, Michigan State, Michigan and Georgia Tech. He picked the Hawkeyes despite having relatives who live in Michigan.
“It’s just a family atmosphere,” Cooper said of why he picked Iowa. “The people out here treated me really well.
“The history of Iowa, their ability to put people in the National Football League, which is a place I intend to go to one day, just kind of how the people interacted with each other.”
Cooper’s goal of playing in the NFL is just part of what he hopes to achieve after college. He’s serious about his academics and he’s serious about making money.
“I understand that football isn’t forever,” Cooper said. “There are a lot of things I want to do outside of football. Football is something that I love to do. But it’s not the only thing that I love to do. I’m not only a football player. I’m Darian Copper, I happen to play football.
“This summer I worked at a youth leadership program and I was kind of like a counselor to some kids. I really enjoyed that, but marketing and sales is really something I always wanted to go into. I’ve always been a salesman, since, like, the candy days at school.”
Category: Iowa Hawkeyes Football