Ralph Cooper: The next Martez Wilson?

Ralph Cooper: The next Martez Wilson?

The next Mikel Leshoure? See story here.

WINNSBORO, S.C. – Russell Blackston saw too much of Ralph Cooper during the South Carolina high school football playoffs. And figures the Big Ten will see plenty of the Illinois-bound linebacker in the next few seasons.

Cooper helped Winnsboro (S.C.) Fairfield Central beat Blackston's Belton-Honea Path Bears 35-28.

"We definitely had to find out where he was at," Blackston said. "He's got size. He's got speed."

What Cooper didn't have was a bunch of scholarship offers. He picked Illinois over his only official option, Georgia Tech.

"I had other schools interested, but they were slow playing it," Cooper said. "They were like, 'Maybe we will, but I don't know when.' "

Cooper's first visit to Illinois was in April. He came back a couple of weeks ago for his official visit. But the first trip would have been enough for Cooper, who said he was tempted to stay on campus.

Knowing his heart was with Illinois, Cooper watched the team during the 2010 season. As often as possible.

"I was seeing if I could see myself playing a part in their defense," Cooper said.

He knew one of the linebackers, Nate Bussey, was graduating. What he didn't know as he watched the 2010 team was Martez Wilson's status. In January, Wilson announced he was entering the NFL draft a year early.

"If he stayed, I could learn from him," Cooper said. "If he left, I had a chance to come on the field quicker.

"My goal is to be the impact guy next year, to be honest."

Cooper was a starter as a freshman at Fairfield Central. During that season, he started thinking about playing beyond high school.

Without an offers close to home, he's willing to travel to the Midwest to continue his career.

Will he be a little homesick? Maybe. But that's part of the deal.

"I'm not going to stay home and not play," Cooper said.

Cooper, who will be a part of a signing ceremony at the school on Wednesday, becomes the first Griffin to sign with a Big Ten school.

Scouting services rate the 6-foot, 225-pounder a three-star prospect. His height might have worked against him in recruiting, Cooper said.

"I'm a little short when compared to everyone else, but I'm bringing some fire," Cooper said.

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Illini92 wrote on January 31, 2011 at 11:01 pm

We are getting way too ahead of ourselves. Making some bold predictions. I don't know how how you can call an SEC reject the next Martez Wilson.

rsaavedra wrote on February 01, 2011 at 1:02 am

typical. yes, take it easy on the excitement.

reminds me of those write ups on Turner's "great finds."

Guenther needs to go.

Weber is not going to get it done.

PeoriaIllini wrote on February 01, 2011 at 8:02 am


This is a football article, why are you mentioning Weber?

On another note, I always take a wait and see approach with recruits. Some turn out well, some don't. No indictment on the kids or the coaches, college can be a tough transition for many.

kfj wrote on February 01, 2011 at 8:02 am

Welcome to Illinois!

jjohnson wrote on February 01, 2011 at 9:02 am

I seem to remember a linebacker named Howard (Dana) who was also too short to be a middle linebacker. Who gets the last laugh? We wait and hope.

GW wrote on February 01, 2011 at 10:02 am

I'm with you Peoriaillini, take a wait and see. You never know how things will work for a recruit, too many variables.

Way too much negativity on here though.

Illini92 wrote on February 01, 2011 at 4:02 pm

Lets get real here people. Martez was a top 5 overall 5 star recruit with out of this world physical attributes. He is argueably the best defensive athlete our school has ever seen. This Ralph Cooper is just going to be an above average athletic linebacker.

ehorton wrote on February 01, 2011 at 4:02 pm

for illini 92:

i take it that you have seen him play. how does he look on tape? does he show good quickness to the ball? how is his pass coverage?

as an aside, what is your area of expertise?


ed horton

Illini92 wrote on February 01, 2011 at 10:02 pm

Thanks Ed, you're such a genius. Thanks for the name drop and the humility. My expertise is common sense. I'm just being a realist, I'm not trying to be negative. I'm getting sick of the writers on here telling us how every recruit is going to be an all big-ten player.

tonyjb37 wrote on February 02, 2011 at 6:02 am
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martez was good but simeon rice was by far the best defensive player we have ever had play football here.

Illini92 wrote on February 02, 2011 at 11:02 am

I didn't say defensive player, I said athlete. His physical attributes were unreal. His nickname was 'the freak' as s freshman. Every that saw him practice was just in awe.