GREENVILLE — Vintavious Cooper was one of several breakout stars for East Carolina last season, earning Conference USAs Newcomer-of-the-Year award and second-team honors after running for 100 yards four times and finishing with 1,084.
After an off-season arrest for misdemeanor possession of marijuana resulted in a suspension, he earned his way back on the team June 11 and has averaged 92 yards per game this season with 161 rushing yards and 115 receiving yards through three games. He gained 68 yards on six carries in the Pirates 27-6 loss at North Carolina last season.
Q: What was it like when you found out that you would be able to rejoin the team in the offseason?
A: I was extremely happy. Just because I know that it was definitely the biggest mistake that Ive ever made. To put myself in that position and know that everything Ive ever worked for could be taken away from me because of one night. Coach (Ruffin McNeill) called me to tell me I was back on the field and that was a heartfelt moment for me that Ill never forget.
Q: Were you ever worried about your future in football?
A: I always thought that I would never be back. 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 wont ever have that opportunity again. Im blessed to have that opportunity again.
Q: You were on the field last year against UNC, so what is it like to step out on Kenan Stadium as a visiting player?
A: Its something that you just have to deal with. Especially last year, with that being my first year here and the UNC game being my first big away game, it was a humbling experience. Playing against UNC, you get a lot of jitters because its one of those games thats huge for the fans and obviously important for us. Well have to have every I dotted and every T crossed to get the win.
Q: Last years game was close in the first half, but got away from you in the second half. How much focus will there be on finishing the game and getting revenge?
A: I think it has a lot to do with revenge. Its on everybodys minds during UNC week. Well kick it into another notch when it comes to that game and have to maintain the same amount of energy throughout the game. We came out in the second half flat against them last year and we cant allow that again. We have high expectations for ourselves and stepping into the UNC game this year will be a lot different than last year.
Q: How much different is it going up against an ACC defensive line like Virginia Tech or UNC versus say a Conference USA line?
A: Its definitely different. ACC linemen are bigger and the majority of the time they are faster. Its tougher going up against those guys, but at the same time every guy is human. When you get out there on the field, you have to prove your talent. We know theyre big, strong and fast, but were looking forward to that challenge because we feel we match up well against them.
Smith: 919-829-8941; Twitter: @RCorySmith