Valdon Cooper is a speedy defensive back from Elbert County, Georgia. Few Illlinois fans had heard about him prior to his commitment, but he has a lot to offer the football team. He discusses what attracted him to the school, including a family connection.
"I like the overall feeling of it. The teammates are nice. Everybody was real cool. I like all the coaching staff.
"I was afraid it was gonna be too big, but it's not as big as I thought it was. And I have family in Champaign, so I'm pretty comfortable. It was just an overall good feeling."
Cooper was not highly recruited, and he thinks he knows why.
"The coach we had before was a good coach, but he didn't do a good job of getting information out. If we had last year the coaching staff we had this year, I would have been easily a national recruit. Maybe he didn't care, but he didn't get the word out."
That happens far more often than most realize. Coaches who care about their players go the extra mile to help them find good college opportunities. Some are simply more generous with their time than others.
The situation wasn't ideal for Cooper, but it became a blessing with the Illini since they were able to attract a speed merchant with great ball skills. He was considered the feature back for his offense, and he had impressive statistics his senior season.
"I was blessed with a lot of speed, so I was able to turn the corner. Our offense was designed for outside runs. I gained around 1,100 yards in 90+ carries. We didn't win the state championship, but we won our region. We hadn't done that in a long time. So overall it was a successful season."
Even more amazing was his accomplishments with special teams.
"I had 8 touchdowns on kickoff and punt returns."
Playing almost every down for his high school team, Cooper rarely saw balls come his way at his safety spot because teams avoided plays in his area. Illinois recruited him for defense.
"Originally I was a cornerback. I moved to safety because we had a need. We had some players at the cornerback positions, so they moved me to safety because they needed an athlete. They could take advantage of my speed. But I'm a corner. That's where everybody is recruiting me."
Cooper earned three medals in the Class 3-A Georgia state track championships last year and expects to do at least as well this year as his school drops down to 2-A. He is also trying his hand at another sport this spring.
"I got first in the long jump, I got fourth in the triple jump, and I got third in the 110 hurdles. I'm in track again this year, and I'm going out for soccer this year too."
Cooper, who chose Illinois over Appalachian State and Air Force, is an excellent student with an admirable future planned once his football career is over.
"I plan to major in something along the lines of Early Childhood Development. I like working with kids. At school, I work with the Special Education children. It's kind of like the highlight of my day; I like it a lot. I like working with kids who can't take care of themselves."
The Illini are getting a talented student-athlete, one who will be an outstanding representative of the University throughout his life.