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Taking the next step


Just the thought of suiting up for an NFL team sends Jarrod Cooper into a verbal frenzy.

"I'm sitting on pins and needles," said Cooper, talking as fast as his mouth could move. "I'm so excited and can hardly believe all of this."

"All of this" is the preparation for what could be one of the most important days in Cooper's young life — the 2001 NFL Draft.

After a brilliant four years with Kansas State University, Cooper is ready to take the next step. The 6-foot-1, 215-pounder is considered one of the top safeties in this year's draft.

"This is the big time here, but I don't feel any real pressure," Cooper said. "I'm just trying to have fun and enjoy the experience."

Most draft analysts see Cooper as a solid, hard-hitting defender with good speed and athleticism. He is a safety built in the mold of the New England Patriots' Lawyer Milloy. He's physical and plays with reckless abandon.

"I think I can cover fine. I'm not concerned with that," Cooper said. "I think right now my weakness is my strength — and that is that I'm over aggressive. I need to get settled down a little bit."

Cooper entered his senior year with the Wildcats as one of the favorites for the Jim Thorpe Award, given annually to the nation's top defensive back. But injuries bogged down his final season. He finished fifth on the team in tackles despite missing four games, but it wasn't the year he expected to have.

"I didn't get any postseason awards but that doesn't matter to me," he said. "I just wanted to help my team out in any way that I could. That is the type of player that I am."

He is no stranger to anonymity. Coming out of Peerland, Texas, Cooper wasn't highly recruited. However, that was motivation for things to come at K-State. By his senior year, Cooper had 34 consecutive starts under his belt and was named as one of the Wildcats' team captains.

"I was never that highly recruited so I never really have cared what others thought of my play," he said. "I know what I can do."

Cooper, who likes to collect rare snakes, thinks he can slither up the draft board with good pre-draft workouts and a strong showing at the combine. There are a number of teams he wouldn't mind playing for but realistically, he is willing to go any place that will give him a chance.

"I'll do whatever it takes," he said. "I'll play special teams, whatever I can do."

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