IOWA CITY, Iowa – Darian Cooper was destined for success in college no matter what the circumstances might be.
With so much on the line, failure just wasn’t an option.
It very easily could’ve been, considering how much pain and suffering that Cooper has endured as an Iowa football player. The Maryland native could’ve said the heck with trying to recover from surgery to both of his knees and returned to the comfort of home.
He could’ve felt sorry from himself and let the academic side of being a student-athlete suffer.
Cooper could’ve made so many wrong decisions while dealing with the loneliness and frustration that comes with being injured.
But instead, he has persevered and still hopes to contribute on the defensive line again after missing all of last season.
“I’ve never taken this much time off from the game before,” Cooper said Saturday at Iowa’s annual media day event. “So that was definitely something new to me.
“But hey, I’ve come to deal with it, and I know what doesn’t kill me will make me stronger.”
Cooper’s timetable for a return is as soon as possible, but he has yet to receive medical clearance.
“If I could wake up tomorrow fully healed than, shoot, sign me up,” Cooper said.
The Iowa defense could use a player with Cooper’s experience as a defensive tackle. Both of Iowa’s starting defensive tackles from last season – Carl Davis and Louis Trinca-Pasat – have to be replaced.
Cooper saw action in all 13 games as sophomore in 2013, recording 18 tackles, including one quarterback sack. He appeared in 12 games as a redshirt freshman in 2012, with two starts.
“I just understand that I have to get back,” said the 6-foot-2, 282-pound Cooper. “I believe in my athleticism. I believe in the talent that I have.
“So I know once I’m out there and I’m healthy, I can make plays happen.”
Regardless of what happens to Cooper as a football player, his path to success already is being carved out. He is on course to graduate this summer and again in the fall as a pre-business/communications major.
He wants to pursue a career in sales or marketing and live somewhere warm, preferably Texas. Cooper’s family is used to relocating, so distance from home isn’t a factor to him.
“It’s just part of being a man,” Cooper said being away from home. “We’ve always kind of had a nomadic family. I’ve never really called one place home in particular.”
With graduation coming, Cooper is about to earn a special place among his relatives.
“It feels really good,” Cooper said. “You come to college for a degree. It feels good to know that I’m leaving with one.
“So that’s exciting. My family is really excited, the first male from my family to ever go to college. So I’ve set a precedent now.”
Cooper attended DeMatha Catholic High School in Hyattsville, Md., and was one of the more heavily recruited players on the Iowa roster. He had over a dozen scholarship offers from a list that includes Clemson, Florida, Georgia Tech, Michigan, Michigan State and Wisconsin.
Recruits often are told during the recruiting process to pick a school where they would feel most comfortable if they couldn’t play football anymore. Cooper is happy that he picked Iowa in that regard.
“The coaches and my teammates have really stood by me,” Cooper said. “I can’t speak for any other program. But I know here they’ve definitely looked out for me and the coaches have expressed as soon as I was injured whether I could come back or not that they wanted me to be a part of this team and I really appreciated that.”
Even though he missed of all last season, Cooper still has made an impact. In fact, his popularity helped him become one of 13 seniors named to Iowa’s 2015 Leadership Group.
“It hurt, especially in the beginning because there is nothing I’d rather do than go out there and toil with my brothers and stuff like that,” Cooper said. “The wins didn’t hurt so much as the losses. It’s the losses when I really want to be out there and I want to feel like maybe I could have been out there and help contribute.
“But that’s neither here nor there. All I can focus on is making sure that I contribute in my role teaching the (players) and making sure they understand the defense and the game plan for that week.”
Cooper speaks proudly about his faith in God and how it has given him the strength and perseverance to overcome any obstacle. He described his mother as a praying women who raised her children to rely on their faith.
“She just told me to make sure that I believe in God, pray and keep my head up,” Cooper said. “Do what I need to do on my part and ask God to help out.
“I learned that you have to pray more, you have to believe and you have to be optimistic because it’s easy when you’re hurt to kind of get down on yourself and wallow and stuff like that. But you have to push through it. You have to keep a strong mind. It’s as much mental as it is physical.”
Cooper deals with life in the same way he chases after a quarterback. He just keeps pushing forward.