By RENALDO DORSETT
A SWITCH from the defensive to the offensive side of the ball has become a major move in the right direction for one Bahamian collegiate football and a sucessful end to the NCAA postseason.
Alex Cooper and his Houston Cougars defeated the Pittsburgh Panthers 35-34 in the Lockheed Martin Armed Forces Bowl on Friday. Houston finished the season 8-5 including a mark of 5-3 in The American Athletic Conference.
The game marked the third all-time meeting between the two schools and Houston’s ninth bowl game in the last 12 years.
Cooper was initially recruited as defensive lineman, but enjoyed the best season of his career when he shifted his focus from trying to sack the quarterback to protecting him instead.
He started all 13 games during the season at right tackle and helped the Houston offence gain 2,194 yards on the ground for 4.8 yards per rush and 26 rushing touchdowns in those 12 games.
Cooper, a redshirt junior for the Cougars who made the transition from a high school basketball standout to a defensive lineman, worked his way into a starting role at right tackle in just over two years. He was one of three new players on the offensive line joining seniors centre Bryce Redman and guard Rowfy Harper.
He earned the spot when veteran tackle Zach Johnson tore his ACL on the final day of spring practice.
This season marked the first start for the 6’4” 297-pound Cooper, who played in 12 games last year and 69 snaps on the offensive line. He also notched a start as a tight end in the team’s jumbo formation.
In an interview with Joseph Duarte by the Houston Chronicle, Cougars head coach Tony Levine expressed his confidence in the young but experienced newcomers to the offensive line.
“They may not have started (in the past) but have gained experience,” Levine said. “We know what they can do. They just haven’t showed it publicly yet because they haven’t played extensively in games. We have tremendous confidence in our offensive line.”
When he moved to Houston as a member of the Frank Rutherford Development Programme, Cooper was a highly touted basketball recruit at Second Baptist High School.
In his senior season he earned 4A All-District honours on the court, and on the gridiron he played both ways, tallying five catches for 54 yards and a touchdown on offence and racking up 13 sacks and two fumble recoveries on defence.
Cooper chose Houston over Baylor, Kansas State, Rice and SMU.
After redshirting his true freshman season, he returned the following year when he moved to the offensive line prior to the start of fall practice.
In other news for the Cougars, Cooper and his teammates will welcome Ohio State offensive coordinator Tom Herman as the Cougars new head coach. He took over for Tony Levine, who was fired last week.
Herman agreed to a five-year, $6.75 million deal to take over the Cougars, who went 7-5 this season. He has been quarterbacks coach and offensive coordinator for Ohio State teams that have gone 36-3 the past three seasons. The Buckeyes ranked fifth in the nation in yards per play two straight years. He will remain with the Buckeyes throughout the team’s playoff run.