Profile of a Christian Athlete: Cooper Kupp

After Cooper Kupp’s junior season at Eastern Washington University in 2015, a year in which the wide receiver from Yakima, Washington posted 114 receptions for 1,642 yards and 19 touchdowns, serious consideration was given to Kupp declaring for the 2016 NFL Draft.  Instead, Cooper decided to forgo the NFL’s riches for one more year and come back for his senior season.  Speaking to the media after his decision, as reported by the Billings Gazette, Kupp had this to say; “I’m not playing football so I can be set for the rest of my life. Money is not the reason I do this.  If that comes with it, that’s great, but I’ve never been one for the excessive lifestyle.” No one would have blamed Cooper if he had decided to forgo his Senior season.  He had already graduated with a degree in economics, married his girlfriend Anna, and had just been named the Walter Payton Award winner, which is given annually to the most outstanding offensive player in the Division I Football Championship Subdivision.  Despite having every reason to leave, Cooper’s decision to stay showed where his priorities truly lied; faith, family and football.

For family, it was his teammates and coaches. “School is great, but it’s the relationships that have made it special for us,” Kupp told the Spokesman Review in 2016. Cooper truly treated his team like family, with the Kupp’s hosting an annual barbecue for incoming freshman on the team. This was an opportunity Cooper seized on to discuss the pitfalls common to those finding themselves on their own for the first time in life.  Kupp would talk to the freshman about the downside of partying and living selfishly,  and offer advice and support for navigating the new territory of collegiate life. “These freshmen are instantly hit with the idea that this [partying] is what college is supposed to be about,” Kupp relayed to the Spokesman.That’s one reason we came back, to have an influence on young adults in a very important time in their lives.”

For football, it was an absolute love of the game.  Coming out of High School as a 170 pound senior, Cooper was an undersized receiver with zero scholarship offers from FBS (Division-I) college programs.  After accepting an offer to play at FCS Eastern Washington University (Division-II), Kupp was determined to never again be overlooked.  While redshirting as a freshman, Cooper went to work chasing perfection, adopting the Vince Lombardi quote that said “When you strive for perfection, You’re bound to meet excellence along the way.”  Those words fully ingrained in his mind, Kupp would spend hours in the film room, memorizing the offense in order to be one step ahead of the defense. Countless hours were also spent on the field perfecting routes. With a father and grandfather having played in the NFL, Cooper already had a high football IQ, and with an intensity matched by few, he went to work honing his craft as a wide receiver.

That work would pay off the next year, where as a redshirt freshman Kupp led the Eagles with 93 receptions, 1621 yards and 21 touchdowns in 2013.  Cooper had overcome his physical limitations by using superior technique combined with a gritty toughness and non-stop effort. He followed up the 2013 campaign with 104 receptions for 1,431 yards and 16 more touchdowns as a sophomore.  His junior year was even better, as he finished 2015 with 114 catches for 1642 yards and 19 scores.  In addition to being named an FCS All-American for the third season in a row, Kupp was named the Walter Payton award winner, given to the FCS’ Offensive Player of the Year.  When Cooper announced his decision to come back for his senior year, it was surprising, but ultimately was not unexpected.

In announcing his plans to the media, Kupp said “I believe that God has a plan for me and a great plan for Eastern Washington. I want to be a part of that and I’m really looking forward to the offseason and getting Eastern Washington back to a national championship.” Cooper’s love for his team and the game of college football were instrumental in luring him back for a fifth and final season.

That senior season would end up being a great one, as Kupp set a conference record with 117 receptions and added 1,700 receiving yards to go along with 17 more touchdowns.  He was named an All-American once more, and was again named a finalist for the Walter Payton award.  Cooper added to his final collegiate season with an impressive showing at the Reese’s Senior Bowl and a strong performance at the NFL Draft Combine.  There was a lot of excitement and intrigue brewing as the draft drew closer, and that period would be one where Cooper relied upon the most important foundation in his life, faith.

That faith was an outspoken belief in God and Jesus Christ. “A million dollars for me playing football for God is so much more than a million dollars or a billion dollars can ever mean.”  Those were the words spoken by Eastern Washington University’s Cooper Kupp in a November 2016 interview with The Spokesman Review. The comment came up during a discussion involving Kupp’s upcoming prospects in the 2017 NFL Draft.  Following a record-breaking career for the EWU Eagles, which included FCS-records of 428 receptions, 6,464 receiving yards and 73 touchdowns, the speculation was that Cooper could go anywhere after the second round.

For Kupp, he wasn’t so much concerned with where he was going, but who he was whenever he got there. “It all goes back to why I’m here. God created me to play this game. That is where my fuel comes from,” Cooper told CBN in April of 2017. “Everything I do is to glorify God and I’m playing for nothing but Him. When I step on the field I can feel His pleasure. I’m walking this path just like so many of my Christian brothers are… And I strive for my relationship with Christ to become closer every day.”

Growing up in a Christian family, Cooper gave his life to Christ at a young age. Deciding to make a statement to God about his commitment to Him, Cooper was baptized during his freshman year of college.  Football became a way to glorify God, with a November 29, 2016 Tweet from Kupp summing it up perfectly. “No gift I could give that would be worthy of Him,” Cooper wrote (or tweeted), “but I can play. To the very best of the ability He gave me. And He will be well pleased.”

As Kupp entered the NFL as the fifth pick in the third round (69th overall) of the 2017 NFL Draft, the three major elements in his life; family, faith and football remained an integral part of who he was.  One of the better route runners in the draft, Cooper would go on to post 62 catches, 869 yards and five scores in his rookie season with the Los Angeles Rams, just barely missing our Bold Prediction of 70 receptions.  As the 2018 season draws near, Cooper will look to remain a major factor in the Rams’ passing attack (in PPR fantasy leagues as well), and will strive to continue to give God the glory in all that he does.


David Rogers is a senior editor and writer for the SFFS. Follow him on Twitter.

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