Q&A;: Hangin’ with Mr. Cooper (after practice)

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By Amber Greviskes

Throughout his career at Illinois, defensive back James Cooper has been a catalyst for the Illini.

In 2001, he watched his teammates compete in the Sugar Bowl because he redshirted his freshman season. During the 2002 and 2003 seasons, he played as a running back for the Illini – a position he was famous for in high school. In 2004, he showed his flexibility and athleticism, switching to defensive back. He amassed 28 tackles, two sacks, two PBUs and a forced fumble in 11 games.

After practice on Tuesday, he stopped to talk to the Daily Illini about movies, football and the men that make up Illinois’ senior class.

Q: What has been your most memorable moment at Illinois? Is there any particular teammate that stands out?

A: It’s just spending time with the players in the locker room after practice, after the weight room – the jokes, the laughs, the stories. That would have to be the best part of it.

I love all of them, any teammate. We’ve got this little row: (Anthony) Thornhill, Jason (Davis), me, E.B. (Halsey), Alan (Ball), Melvin (Bryant), Reef (Sharriff Abdullah), Juan (DaJuan Warren), Morris (Virgil) and Travis (Williams). We all hang together in the locker room. We all hang together outside of football.

Q: Who is your favorite former Illini?

A: My favorite former Illini would have to be Carey Davis. I just love Carey. He was cool. He was easy to talk to. He had your back through every situation.

Q: If you could meet one person, living or dead, who would it be?

A: I just met Elaine Brown last night, the former Black Panther, it was great listening to her talk. I never really expected the experience. Just to talk to someone from the civil rights was a great experience. That has to go down as an unexpected meeting.

Q: What is you favorite movie?

A: My favorite movie would have to be “Love Jones.” I’m a big romance guy, and I like the romantic movies, so it would have to be “Love Jones.”

Q: What do you do to get ready for a game?

A: I put on my headphones and listen to music and just picture myself making plays. Looking in the mirror, just go out there in game-time situations and making plays on the field.

Q: What kind of music do you listen to?

A: All rap music – fast-paced, heartbeating music to get your pulse going.

Q: What was it like to go from running back to defense?

A: It was tough playing defense because you always want the ball in your hand. At first, it was alright because it was a change and everyone loves changes, but I really miss touching the football.

I watch E.B. (Halsey) and Pierre (Thomas) sometimes and I get jealous and I envy that they still have the opportunity to play running back.

Q: Did you ever get the chance to play against Pierre in high school?

A: No. I didn’t actually. As a senior, I actually went to one of his games as a sophomore – but I never got the chance to play against him.

Q: Who do you think was the better running back in high school?

A: Oh, it had to be me. But, I think Pierre is a better college running back. I was better in high school.

Q: What is your favorite thing about the bye week?

A: My favorite thing about the bye week is the chance to relax and watch some football – not be engaged in it. It’s just a really good time to recover and relax.

Q: I hear you’re the funniest person on the team, can you tell me a knock-knock joke?

A: I really don’t do jokes. I just tell the truth. I just say honest stuff and people just laugh at it. I think other people on the team are humorous, so I don’t know where you get off thinking that I’m the funniest person on the team.

Q: If you’re not the funniest person on the team, then who is?

A: It has to be Melvin Bryant and Jason Davis. Melvin says some of the most bizarre things – you just have to laugh at the things he says. Jason, Jason knows so much. He reads books. He watches movies. And, the things he says are just so off-the-wall when you catch on to them, it’s just hilarious.

Q: Can you tell me a little bit about the seniors, what you guys were like when you came in and how you’ve changed?

A: What’s great about the seniors is that when we came in, we bonded. Steve (Weatherford), Morris (Virgil), Kyle (Kleckner), me, (Ryan) Matha, we all bonded.

Jason didn’t come in in our class, but we all have a bond together. The special thing about these seniors is that they look out for each other, no matter what.

Q: What was it like to sit out the 2001 season (when the Illini went to the Sugar Bowl)?

A: It was rough. I didn’t, personally, really think that I was ready for the college football season. But it was great to go the Sugar Bowl. It was great to be part of it. The players on the team were extraordinary people to look up to and play behind and it was just a great experience to be part of it.

Q: What five words would you use to describe yourself?

A: Open-minded, very observant, courteous, considerate, passionate.

Q: What would you do if you weren’t a football player?

A: If I weren’t a football player, I would probably be a high school athletic director or be working with youth kids – somehow doing youth sports so that I could talk to the kids and show them how important education is – and how important sports is related to education, and keep them off the streets so that they have better experiences – away from all of the other things like drugs and gangs.

Q: How would you describe coach Ron Zook?

A: Convincing. He’s a firm believer in what he believes in and he forces that on every player. You never see a moment where Coach Zook isn’t sure. He is very down-to-earth and into reality, but he still believes in everything he believes in. From the day they put that team on the schedule, he knows we’re going to win the game – and that is one thing that is special about him.