Hunkie Cooper changing wide receivers culture at SDSU

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Meghan McCarron

by Patrick Carr, Sports Editor

On a crisp August morning when the sun had yet to fully reach the apex of its daily routine, San Diego State football practiced in the cool shadow of parking structure 5 and the Jeff Jacobs JAM Center.

It was the first day of two-a-day practices, which is when SDSU practices for around 90 minutes in the morning and up to two hours later in the afternoon.

Practice on this particular morning was finished. One men’s soccer player had already taken the field and started stretching and warming up.

All the coaches and players were making their way toward the north gate on the turf practice field, heading in to watch practice film.

Except the wide receivers.

They remained on the field in a circle, doing push-ups led by their vocal, energetic and passionate coach, Hunkie Cooper.

Cooper is tasked with changing the culture of wide receivers at SDSU.

“I try to bring a more physical, more psychological edge to the game and they’re responding to it,” Cooper said.

Head coach Rocky Long’s main complaint with the wideouts is they weren’t physical or aggressive enough last season.

Even one week into fall camp back in August, Long noticed the receivers were more aggressive.

“They’re fighting on their blocks and they’re going up and trying to get the ball,” Long said.

Cooper’s path to San Diego, like many, has been anything but ordinary. He grew up in Texas, then went to UNLV to play football in the early 1990s, the same time Jerry Tarkanian’s Runnin’ Rebels had taken Las Vegas and the college basketball world by storm.

The NFL didn’t beckon to Cooper after college, but the Arena Football League did.

He played from 1993-2005 with the Arizona Rattlers, setting numerous team records as a wide receiver despite playing quarterback his whole high school and college career.

The drills SDSU receivers do are intense and, well, entertaining. They’re meant to build agility and sharpen reflexes.

Cooper, himself, is an intense guy. In scrimmages, his voice can be heard above the rest.

“I’m a Texas guy, you know what I mean?” he said. “All I know is to outwork people and have a plan.”

The wide receiver production last year was almost nonexistent, short of Ezell Ruffin’s return from injury toward the end of the season.

“I think the energy that I bring and the physical toughness that I bring as a player, myself, I think that’s putting an edge on them,” Cooper said.

In 2014, SDSU receivers accounted for six of the team’s 10 passing touchdowns.

Ruffin had two, which leaves juniors Eric Judge and Lloyd Mills and senior Jemond Hazely as the only current wideouts who have a touchdown to their name.

But again, the culture seems different this year under Cooper.

“They’ll be physical, I guarantee it. You’re going to hear them play,” Cooper said. “They’re going to hit people.”

It’s only natural Cooper ended up in San Diego from UNLV. Current special teams coordinator Booby Hauck was the Rebels’ head coach from 2010-2014.

So did men’s basketball assistant coach Justin Hutson, who had a two-year stint with the Runnin’ Rebels.

Ironically, Cooper had links with SDSU before he joined the coaching staff. He was the head coach at Canyon Springs High in Las Vegas during the 2009-2014 seasons.

Aztecs star junior running back Donnel Pumphrey played under Cooper at Canyon Springs and compiled mind-numbing rushing statistics while also winning a Nevada Player of the Year award in 2012.

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