GREENVILLE — Vintavious Cooper rushed for 1,084 yards and seven touchdowns last season, but his pride in those accomplishments paled in comparison to the elation he felt this summer when he was told he could rejoin the East Carolina football team.
Cooper, a transfer from Southwest Mississippi Community College, was named the Conference USA Newcomer of the Year for his efforts last season, but the running back ran into trouble with the law in the offseason when he was charged with misdemeanor possession of marijuana by the ECU police department. As a result, the school announced March 8 that Cooper would be suspended from the team indefinitely.
With his roster spot in jeopardy, Cooper was given a series of steps to take by fourth-year head coach Ruffin McNeill. On June 11, East Carolina announced that the talented rusher had scored a second chance.
Cooper, a lightly recruited option quarterback, said the day he found out he would remain a Pirate felt as good as the day he was given a chance to play Div. I football.
“It was like the first day I found out I was coming to ECU,” Cooper said Saturday during East Carolina’s Media Day. “It was heartfelt. I almost burst into tears. It was touching.
“Being in a situation like I was, it’s hard to say that you could really come back from something like that and now that I have another chance, I want to prove to everybody that it was a mistake that won’t happen again.”
While some suspensions to talented players are given with a wink and a nod, Cooper said that was not the case here. He was very fearful that he had played his last game as a Pirate.
“Actually, I always thought that I would never be back,” Cooper said. “I was pretty nervous. It was a tough spring. I had never been in trouble like that before. … The only thing I was thinking was that I messed my opportunity up and I won’t ever have that opportunity again. I’m blessed to have that opportunity again.
“… It was 50-50. The whole time I was just thinking, ‘Do what you need to do. Anything asked of you, make sure it’s done and make sure every T is crossed and every I is dotted.’”
McNeill, who declined to be more specific about what Cooper had to do to work his way back onto the team, said the 5-foot-9, 200-pound back went above and beyond to re-enter his good graces.
“He had some discipline requirements that he had to meet for me personally and the program and then he had some university requirements,” McNeill said. “He not only met those, but went beyond those things.
“Having him back is not just a blessing for him, but for us because he’s a great kid. Some kids make mistakes and he knows that and he’s on his way up.”