GREENVILLE — When destiny called, Vintavious Cooper was sleeping.
The option quarterback from Southwest Mississippi Community College had verbally committed to Murray State and as midnight approached on national signing day, he fell asleep with dreams of playing on the Football Bowl Subdivision level. When he awoke, those dreams became a reality once he checked his phone.
I woke up and I had a missed call, Cooper said. I called it back and he was like, Hey, this is Lincoln Riley, offensive coordinator from East Carolina. I was like, kind of shocked. I hadnt talked to any D-I schools and being that that was my first one, it took me by surprise.
He was like, Well, you finally got your opportunity and its up to you if you want to take it or not. But you know what you want to do and you know where you want to be. You have the chance if you want to really take it.
Copper took the opportunity and ran with it, literally.
As a running back for the Pirates (7-4, 6-1 Conference USA), the Georgia native, who is commonly referred to as Tay, has added an explosive element to East Carolinas Air Raid offense. Cooper, a junior, leads the team with 978 rushing yards and is poised to become the Pirates first back to break the 1,000-yard mark since Dominique Lindsay in 2009.
As far recruiting Cooper goes, Riley reluctantly took the credit.
There wasnt much of a (recruiting) process, but I guess I did. We really didnt recruit him, Riley said. We knew about him, but we thought we were going to take a high school back. A couple of those fell threw and we made some late decisions to not to go on a couple of people that we thought we were going to (recruit). He was a guy we thought about, and I called him about midnight on signing day. That was the first time I ever talked to him.
The guy who nobody was talking about became the talk of Greenville after he rushed for 151 yards and a touchdown and caught four passes for 52 yards during the 28-18 win Sept. 29 against Texas-El Paso.
Since then, Cooper has averaged 5.5 yards per carry and piled up three 100-yard games, including a 172-yard, two-touchdown performance against Alabama-Birmingham on Oct. 20.
Though only 5-foot-9 and 189 pounds, Cooper has tremendous leg strength, which when combined with his ability to read running lanes, has allowed him to become one of C-USAs top rushers.
Hes a downhill runner, theres no question, Riley said. Hes not a burner. Hes got good speed but not great speed. He really sets up the blocks well. He really feels the blocks well and feels the weak spots of the defense. Hes a strong enough kid that he can run through arm tackles and hes got great balance.
That balance has brought great balance to a pass-happy offense, which with one game to go in the regular season has rushed for 192 more yards than it did all of last season.