The day Willie Howard took the head coaching job for the football team at Robbinsdale Cooper, he pledged to do things bigger and better than any of his predecessors.
Last week, at least that much was realized, as 14 of his seniors from this past season signed a National Letter of Intent to play football beyond high school.
In all, of the 26 seniors that played for Cooper this past fall, 22 will be going to college.
That 14 of them will be playing ball is a bonus, Howard noted. It is also the new expectation.
“This will be our standard going forward,” he said Feb. 6, as Cooper celebrated the first day of the spring national signing period by decking out its atrium to the fullest of extents.
“You look at all these guys signing, and all the seniors we have that will be going to school next year, and it is unheard of in my opinion,” Howard continued. “But it sets the expectation for what we are doing moving forward.”
To emphasize that point, Howard and his coaches invited all of the eighth-grade football players from Robbinsdale Middle School to the ceremony. Forty of them were showed up, standing in unison behind the seniors as each – one-by-one – signed their respective National Letter of Intent.
“They are the future,” said senior Mailik Rucker “They see us doing this today, and if they come in and work hard and do what they are asked, every one of them will have this opportunity. That’s pretty special.”
The same could be said for the commitment the Cooper coaches showed in opening these type of doors for their players. After season’s end, the entire staff spent endless hours contacting colleges about their guys. The conversations generally started with how the players were doing academically. “If we can’t answer that question, these guys don’t get this opportunity,” Howard said. “But I am very proud of the work we have done as a team in the classroom. When I started here, the team GPA was 2.1. Right now, it is 2.89. That is very good. We are not winning in the conference for overall team GPA, but what we are doing is telling people to look over their shoulder because Cooper is coming.”
There was no arguing that Wednesday, even though each of these players were leaving.
Rucker was the centerpiece. The hard-hitting University of Iowa recruit signed on to play college football for the Hawkeyes in the Big Ten, where his coach said he has a chance to excel in the Iowa defensive backfield.
“Malik can put himself in position to be a dynamic player in the Big Ten,” said Howard. “When you watch his film, it is obvious he is not scared of contact.”
The dual-threat offensive backfield from Cooper will also be playing college football. Billy Kellogg is off to the University of Minnesota-Crookston, and Ashanti Payne is heading to Southwest State.
Both players ran for over 1,000 yards this past season.
“That’s my brother, and we did this together,” said Kellogg. “I loved sharing a backfield with him. I’m going to miss that.”
A trio of Hawks – Leroy Taylor, Robert Murry and Cornell Walker – signed on play for Oklahoma Panhandle State University. Logan Olesen and Lenzel Koskela will both play for Valley City State. Andrew Kimball and Dawoine Scott are off to the North Dakota School of Science. Parris Fields will play at Robert Morris. Briceon Scott-Burch is going to Central Lakes College. Francis Kanneh chose Southern University, and DaShawn Williams will play at Winona State.
“All these kids are going on some sort of scholarship,” said Howard. “If you look at how much money we will be saving these families, today we became millionaires.”
Contact Nick Clark at [email protected]