Feb. 3, 2004
by Lucas James Mack
Marquis Cooper is the picture of calm - his body still in anticipation of the flurry of action to come, his eyes fixated on his catch as he sets his lure.
"I love to fish," says the senior linebacker. "I taught myself how to do it when I was really young and I would go out with my friends to lakes or ponds and fish all day long."
As Cooper grew, so did his love for fishing. When his father, Bruce - a long time sportscaster in Arizona - introduced his son to football, Cooper immediately latched on to the similarities between the two sports, both of which value patience, focus, and a willingness to practice. On the football field, much like in the wild, there are those who catch, and those who are caught. Cooper knew right where he belonged, lining up on defense with the goal of reeling in opponents
The older he gets, however, the smarter the prey he tracks becomes. To that end, Cooper has been forced to adapt, hitting the weight room this summer to add more bulk to his 6-foot-4, 215-pound frame.
"I worked out everyday this summer," says Cooper. "I would work out in the morning and then go to class and then work out again after class. I had a real busy schedule."
With a father whose job it was to analyze games, the brains and brawn of football have always gone hand-in-hand for Cooper, who at a young age developed an in-depth knowledge of football's intellectual side.
"I started playing Pop Warner in 1986, when I was six years old," he recalls. "When I first started playing football it became my life. I loved it and have been playing ever since."
A multi-sport star in his own right, Cooper idolized Bo Jackson, though he likely could teach Bo a thing or two about baiting a hook. Bo may have known offense, but Cooper knew defense, and applied Jackson's speed and intensity to the defensive side of the ball.
Cooper caught running backs the way ESPN's Jimmy Houston caught fish, while his family supported him from the sidelines. The decision to leave Arizona for the cooler climes of Seattle was tough on Cooper and his family, but has certainly paid off with the rod and reel.
"It was really hard leaving Arizona, because that was my life I was leaving behind," Cooper says. "At the airport, all my friends were crying and I was so sad to leave. When I came up here it was cold, rainy and gloomy all the time; I thought that I couldn't take it. Now, though, I love it."
Leaving his family had been hard, but Cooper soon became engrossed in his new Husky family, bonding quickly with linebacker Anthony Kelley.
"Anthony really took me under his wings and helped me out," Cooper says. "I was always with my linebacker group and they were always trying to help me out. That really made a difference for me."
Whatever Kelley said or did, it worked. Cooper emerged as a force on defense from nearly his first day in camp, impressing the Husky coaches with his knowledge of the game, honed by years of studying at his father's knee. As the reserve to Jeremiah Pharms at outside linebacker, Cooper made seven tackles, though his biggest play came on special teams.
Having punted five times, fumbled twice and missed a field goal, Washington found itself trailing Arizona State in the second quarter, 6-0, in a midseason game in Tempe. Their Rose Bowl hopes slipping away, the Huskies needed a big play.
Running on adrenaline and feeding off the energy of the dozens of family and friends in the stands to cheer the Husky freshman in his return home, Cooper launched himself in front of a punt by Nick Murphy. Awakened by Cooper's block, the Huskies went on the scoreboard with a touchdown seconds later, taking a lead they would not relinquish.
"Blocking that punt was the best thing that ever happened to me," says Cooper. "I was kind of nervous going into that game, but getting that block made me so happy it made my year. All my family and friends were there cheering for me. It was great!"
Cooper totaled 34 tackles as a reserve in 2001 before exploding for 100 last season, in the process becoming Washington's first triple-digit tackler since Lawyer Milloy in 1995. Having moved to inside linebacker, Cooper anchored a Husky run defense that allowed just 97.7 yards per game, 11th-best in the nation in 2002.
Now a senior, Cooper has assumed a position of leadership among linebackers, seeking to provide the same welcoming, encouraging nature with which Kelley greeted him in 2000. Cooper's leadership does not end in the locker room, however, as he led the team with 37 tackles through five games, including four for-loss.
Whatever stats he may accumulate, there's one lesson he tries to impress upon incoming players - nothing in his career that he has ever experienced can top the roar of 90,000 fans rising to their feet to cheer the Huskies in the Rose Bowl.
"One of the main things that drives me is I want to try and get into the Rose Bowl again and get that ring on my finger," Cooper says. "I'm hoping that we can get there again. It was one of the best feelings I've ever felt to win that game."
Like a day spent on a lake awaiting a bite, the road has been long for Cooper. However, the hours of practice and patience are worth it, for the payoff of the big catch, or the big hit, and hitting is what Cooper knows best.
Friendly and generous off the field, Cooper is a different animal once placed between the sidelines, where making tackles is like shooting fish in a barrel. The senior has set his bait, and his opponents are easy prey.