When Cooper Kupp was redshirting at Eastern Washington in the fall of 2012, the young wide receiver approached practice with nearly the same intensity as starting quarterback Vernon Adams Jr.
Eighth-year head coach Beau Baldwin said Kupp took football so seriously that “sometimes we’d have to kick him out of the office” to go be a normal student. He was dedicated and talented and challenged the Eagles secondary each practice.
Cal Poly cornerbacks coach Allen Brown, a 2014 Eastern Washington graduate and two-time all-Big Sky Conference defensive back, overlapped two seasons with Kupp and developed into a stronger player because of it.
“When I used to be a safety and he used to be on scout team,” Brown said, “I used to always want that look because that’s probably going to be the best look I see all week. Kid can go.”
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Kupp went on to earn scout team player of the year honors in 2012. He was the landslide winner for the Jerry Rice Award in 2013, given annually to the top freshman in the FCS. Last season, he was named first-team All-American by six organizations and was on the season-long watch list for the Walter Payton Award.
Kupp’s career numbers are downright staggering.
In 32 games, he’s caught 243 passes for 3,881 yards and a Big Sky Conference-record 47 touchdowns (sixth on the all-time FCS list). Considering Kupp is only four games into his junior season, he could likely break every FCS receiving record if he decides to pass on the NFL and stay for his senior year in Cheney, Wash.
“Physically he just has an approach to compete in the weight room, compete on the field, compete in every single practice drill, refuse to be tackled,” Baldwin said. “To me, that’s all just incredible mental toughness.
“He’s been obviously a fun guy to have in this program.”
Kupp leads the Big Sky and is No. 1 in the FCS in receiving touchdowns (10), receiving yards (759), receiving yards per game (189.9), receptions (46), receptions per game (11.5) and scoring per game (15.0).
During the Eagles’ season opener against Oregon, Kupp had career highs of 15 catches for 246 yards in a 61-42 setback.
“He’s a good football player on top of being a great receiver,” Cal Poly head coach Tim Walsh said. “That guy likes the game of football and he’s really, really conscious of how he runs his routs.”
The Mustangs enter Saturday’s game with the worst-ranked pass defense in the Big Sky, having allowed 313 yards per game through the air. Cal Poly has already played a string of talented wide receivers in Montana’s Jamaal Jones, Northern Iowa’s Daurice Fountain and Idaho State’s Madison Mangum.
However, Kupp presents a different challenge.
“He’s a playmaker,” Cal Poly cornerback Karlton Dennis said. “In order to stop a playmaker, you’ve got to be a playmaker.”