Wide receiver, by law

Kevin Thomas Hulten
S-E Sports Editor

Columbia Basin native Cooper Kupp is the best wide receiver that no one’s heard of. That’s about to change.

Cooper Kupp, Eastern Washington University’s star wide receiver is leading the world in misapplied football generalizations. This is the price you pay while genre-bending your way from the wheat fields of the Columbia Basin and the tomato-red turf of Cheney to the bright lights of the National Football League Draft, where Kupp is projected as second or third round pick, which, as the song says, is pretty high for a white guy. At least those are the words reverberating around the empty heads of the draftniks and doubters and uneducated football cognoscenti who see the blonde hair and engaging smile and make…assumptions. With the NFL Draft looming less than 24 hours away, Kupp fans can’t go an hour without hearing a generalization so frustrating that they’re likely to hammer the mute button right off of their remote.

“Cooper Kupp, the proverbial Coach’s Son and I just love this kid’s grit.” Click.

“…next up, the little engine that could, Cooper Kupp!” Click.

“He may not be fast or big or good, but he spends time in the film room and he loves this game!”. Click.

Next up, another classic of condescension, updated for the recent explosion of New England Patriot pass catchers similar in their limitations of height, pale pigments and considerable on the field achievements. See: Wes Welker, Julian Edelman, Danny Amendola and Danny Woodhead.

“He may not be big or strong or anyone’s idea of a prototypical number one receiver, but line him up in the slot and shovel the ball his way and ZOOM, watch that little rabbit go!” Click.

Then, of course, there’s the go-to-meme of the SEC fan, the Big Fish in the Small Pond fallacy:

“I wouldn’t touch Cooper Kupp with a ten foot pole. While (insert LSU prospect here) has been banging heads with the big ‘ol hosses of the Southeastern Conference, this young man – and I am sure that he is a nice young man with a great future in the mutual fund industry –this young man Cooper Kupp has been getting fat on weak opponents…inflating his numbers against the Sisters of the Poor and the Directional State School of Mines. There’s a reason he’s not in the SEC and it’s because he can’t cut it!”.

How much of this can one man be forced to take? Do these so-called experts actually watch football? Have any of them ever seen Cooper Kupp play?

More to the point, haven’t these talking heads heard that the greatness of Cooper Kupp has already been decided as a matter of State Law?!

Senate Joint Resolution 8655 – Wide Receiver

CUT to an archived TVW clip, dateline April 13, 2017, Olympia, Washington.

SCENE: The Senate Floor. From behind the ornate rostrum, THE SECRETARY OF THE SENATE stands, and at the request of the President of the Senate, intones the text of the proposed legislation, Joint Resolution 8655, titled ‘Wide Receiver’ in a loud, clear, monotone voice.

“WHEREAS, Cooper Kupp set 29 records at Eastern Washington University, 11 in the conference and 15 in the FCS, WHEREAS, Cooper Kupp is a four-time consensus FCS All-American honoree, a three-time Academic All-19 American honoree, a three-time winner of offensive player of the year awards, an honoree of the Walter Payton Award, and the Jerry Rice Award as a freshman…”

The recounting of Mr. Kupp’s excellence carries on in a cascade of WHEREAS-is followed by INSERT ACCOMPLISHMENTS, picking up steam towards the inevitable NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED… whisking us ahead to the inevitable Roll Call vote.

Our TVW clip ends in a very common occurrence, (despite popular opinion to the contrary) – the legislation is adopted with unanimous bipartisan support, and a few days later, Senate Joint Resolution 8655, becomes part of the official legislative annals of Washington State, thus settling the matter once and for all:
Legally speaking, Cooper Kupp is a badass wide receiver. Don’t believe it? Read on.

Somebody asked Cooper how he breaks so many tackles, and it’s very simple to him, ‘I don’t like to be tackled so I refuse to be tackled.’
- Beau Baldwin

Cooper Kupp is the most prolific pass-catcher in Football Championship Subdivision history, setting all-time records in total receptions (428), receiving yards (6,464), and receiving touchdowns (73). He won just about every award he could win in his four years with the Eagles, starting with the Jerry Rice Award as the top FCS freshman and ending with 30 All American team nominations, 14 different National Player of the Year accolades, three Academic All-America selections.

As a freshman, he started all 15 games, making 93 catches for 1,691 yards and 21 touchdowns. As a sophomore, Kupp fought through an ankle injury but was still an All-American receiver (104-1,431, six TD), third-team punt returner (10-162, TD), and Academic All-American. He won all of those awards again in 2015, in addition to the Walter Payton Award as the FCS's best player as he led the nation in all three major categories (114-1,642, 19 TD). Kupp again proved to be the best receiver in the FCS in 2016, leading all with 117 receptions, 1,700 receiving yards, and 17 receiving touchdowns in another consensus All-American season.

Somewhat counterintuitively, given the above honors and the fact that Cooper Kupp’s status as a stud wide receiver had been settled as a matter of law, the debate on Kupp’s value did not end in places like Indianapolis, Indiana – the home of the NFL Draft Combine – but instead rages on, even as we approach the eve of the NFL Draft, scheduled to begin at 4 p.m. Thursday, April 27.

Across the United States and even across the globe, the followers, fans, coaches, executives, analysts and self-proclaimed draft experts continue to debate the relative merits of Cooper Kupp, Wide Receiver, Eastern Washington University.

This debate, which has produced the incorrect and even offensive generalizations referenced earlier, will not end until – at the soonest -- NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell (or one of his deputies) steps to the draft rostrum and intones the name “Cooper Kupp”, thus ending the amateur athletic career of the greatest wide receiver in the history of Washington State collegiate football – and, quite possibly – the history of collegiate football, period.

"If he gets to a team with a decent quarterback, watch out. In 2014, he punked both Marcus Peters and Sidney Jones when he took on Washington. Two first-round talents. You tell me if he's going to be a starter." – Anonymous South Regional Scout AFC team. 

We may not know when this debate ends, but we know where it started. The Cooper Kupp story begins in the Columbia Basin, at Yakima’s Davis High School, which boasts a perennial loser of a football team cursed with competing in the State’s most talent-rich prep athletic division (4A).

In short, Kupp’s high school career was that of a great player on a subpar team. A two-way All State Selection as a senior, Kupp led Davis to back-to-back winning seasons for the first time in over two decades, filling in at quarterback and starring at receiver and defensive back.

Perhaps because of the less-than-stellar reputation of his Davis football team, Kupp’s on-field exploits were overlooked by the Nick Sabans, Urban Meyers and even Mike Leaches of the world.

Ultimately, Kupp settled at Eastern Washington University, where then-Head Coach Beau Baldwin offered Kupp a scholarship and the chance to play his favorite position, wide receiver.

“Cooper has a competiveness, will and desire to chase perfection. He looks for things he can do better, and it started in the offseason. He wants to understand the whole game of football better and he wants to continue to grow in everything he is doing. That's just how he is wired.” - Beau Baldwin

Kupp’s humbling entrance to collegiate athletics is all-the-more puzzling given the fact that he possessed one of the most highly-valued qualities of sought in prospective major college scholarship football players: a family lineage of big-time athletics. It is often said, in scouting circles, that past performance is the best indicator of future success. Given the fact that this is an industry where a 20 percent hit-rate is considered acceptable (meaning, a college football program is doing quite well if only two out of every ten scholarship players turn out to be capable of holding down a starting role), the value talent evaluators typically place on family lineage cannot be overstated. It’s probably correct to say that family lineage, even more than on the field production, is the most valued trait sought in prospective collegiate athletes and is viewed by coaches and scouts alike as the single most accurate predictor of future success. See McCaffrey, Christian and Mahomes, Patrick for more on this phenomenon.

Yet unlike McCaffery (Stanford) and Mahomes (Texas Tech), Kupp didn’t get a sniff from major football programs.

Which is weird because Kupp’s family are no slouches.

Cooper’s grandfather on his father’s side, Jake Kupp, is a Hall of Fame offensive lineman, a former NFL All-Rookie Team selection, a five time captain of the NFL’s New Orleans Saints, a member of the Saints Hall of Fame and the Saints’ All Time Team (comprised of the franchise’s best ever players at each position). A 1964 draftee of the NFL’s Dallas Cowboys, Jake enjoyed an 11 year NFL career with the Cowboys, the Washington Redskins, Atlanta Falcons and the New Orleans Saints.

Kupp’s maternal grandfather was an excellent football player as well. Tom Gilmer is a member of the Pacific Lutheran University (PLU) Athletic Hall of Fame, inducted after a record-setting career as an all-time great Lute quarterback and punter of the late 1950’s.

Kupp’s parents, Craig and Karin Kupp of Yakima, continued the athletic legacy as dual inductees of the PLU Hall of Fame in 2003. Karin (formerly Karin Gilmer) was a soccer player and Craig played football.

Craig, a graduate of Selah High School, was a fifth-round draft pick of the New York Giants in 1990, featuring for the Arizona Cardinals in 1990 and the Dallas Cowboys in 1991.

All of this adds up to the fact that on Thursday or Friday, Kupp will become only the second third generation NFL player in the history of the sport, joining Clay Matthews of the Green Bay Packers in rarified air unpopulated by even the Mannings (Archie, Peyton, Eli) and McCaffreys (Ed, Christian, Dylan).

Another way of looking at this: the writing’s been on the wall for 50+ years, and yet the debate continues.

“I’d be shocked if you could show me a better receiver at any level in the country.” – Beau Baldwin

In 2013, even Coach Baldwin’s humble scholarship offer came with a caveat: Kupp would have to Redshirt – sit out his first year, serving as fodder for varsity game week preparation by impersonating the personnel and schemes of upcoming opponents for the EWU scout team. When not on the field, Kupp beefed up on training table calories and Big Sky weightlifting regimens.

Sometime during the redshirt season, Kupps’ off-the-field dedication merged with his weight training, caloric intake and aforementioned genetics, and as a result, the perfect collegiate receiver emerged on the red turf of Cheney in the early Fall of 2014.

How did Kupp do in his first taste of collegiate action? Where to start. In a sign of things to come, Kupp set a total of six national records in his debut season, as well as four school marks and a Big Sky record, while winning almost uncountable numbers of national and conference honors for football excellence.

HONORS: Kupp was the unanimous winner of the Jerry Rice Award, presented to the top freshman in the NCAA Football. Four major national media organizations selected Kupp as their Freshman of the Year (College Sporting News, College Sports Journal, College Sports Madness and Phil Steele Publications). Kupp earned consensus national All-America honors. As a member of The Sports Network All-America team, he became one of only five freshmen in FCS to earn first team honors since 1990 and the second wide receiver (Randy Moss 1996). Kupp was also a first team All-America selection by the American Football Coaches Association (the only freshman or sophomore on the squad), College Sporting News (“Fabulous 50”), the Walter Camp Football Foundation, Associated Press, College Sports Journal, Beyond Sports Network, College Sports Madness and Phil Steele Publications.

RECORDS: Kupp broke NFL Hall of Famer Randy Moss all-time single season records for receptions, yards and touchdowns by a freshman with 93 catches, 1,691 yards and 21 TDs. That’s not all. Kupp broke the all-time FCS record with a TD catch in 14 consecutive games, catching at least one touchdown in every game of the season, and seven times, catching two or more. Kupp broke the All Time Big Sky record for touchdown catches in a season and he ranked first in all of collegiate football total receiving yards and fifth in yards per game (112).

The fact that this was Kupp’s most pedestrian season demonstrates the stellar levels of production Kupp churned out on Cheney’s red turf.

But that’s not all. In a prescient move, seemingly designed to pre-emptively rebuff the generalizations and labels destined to come his way in the future, Kupp attacked upper-level competition with a fury unknown to mankind.

In just four games against PAC-12 opponents, Kupp led Eastern to two wins while piling up 11 touchdowns, 40 catches and 716 yards. That’s an average of 17.9 yards per catch and a TD every 3.6 grabs against the four Pac-12 schools in the Pacific Northwest – Washington State, Washington, Oregon and Oregon State. In his first game since deciding to return to Eastern for his senior football season, Kupp helped EWU beat Washington State (9/3/16) 45-42. He had 12 catches for 206 yards and three touchdowns, as the three-time All-America receiver broke the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision record, finishing the game with 59. He also completed a pass for 22 yards against the Cougars, and rushed twice for 29 yards.

"Today, the best player on the field was Cooper Kupp," said Washington State head coach Mike Leach, whose team had nine victories and won a bowl game in 2015, then won eight more in 2016 – but lost to Cooper Kupp twice. The same Cooper Kupp who the Cougars chose not to recruit in 2013.

The NFL Draft begins at 4 p.m. Thursday.