Reggie Cooper was Nebraska’s first prototype safety. Cooper had the size (6-3, 210) and athletic ability to give the Blackshirt defense a fearsome presence in the secondary.
Cooper lettered all four years (1987-1990) with the Big Red, garnering All-Big Eight honors his junior and senior years. He was also a second-team All-American and Jim Thorpe Award finalist during his junior campaign.
Cooper, who broke the Husker defensive backs career tackle record as a senior, is listed as one of the top forty players on NU’s career tackle leader’s chart.
Hailing from Slidell, Louisiana, Cooper was a high school All-American in three sports. He was a McDonald’s All-American in basketball, the Louisiana Defensive Player of the Year and All-American in football and excelled as a high jumper in track and field.
Cooper took recruiting visits in all three sports, but it was football where he was recruited the most heavily at. Nebraska, along with instate favorites LSU and Tulane made his final list.
“I was recruited by a number of colleges like Oklahoma and Alabama, but Nebraska was the only out-of-state school that I considered. It was either Nebraska or stay in-state,” Cooper said.
Nebraska sent their off-campus recruiter Jack Pierce down to Louisiana to recruit Cooper. Cooper knew NU had an amazing college football team but didn’t know a lot about their program. It was up to Pierce to inform Cooper about the Huskers and convince him to leave the state of Louisiana for college.
In the end, the deciding factors that swayed Cooper to the Big Red were Pierce, the way Nebraska handled LSU in the bowl game, and the official visit to NU.
“Jack made my mom feel comfortable with Nebraska and struck my family and me as someone we could really trust. Jack was outstanding and made everyone in my house feel comfortable about me going to Nebraska. Jack was real. What I mean by that was there were a lot of recruiters you could tell were full of it, but Jack was fun-loving, out-going, personable, and trustworthy. I didn’t think of Jack as recruiting me, it was just fun,” Cooper said.
“Then Nebraska played LSU in the 1987 Sugar Bowl and I was invited to come watch the game. The difference between Nebraska and LSU was amazing. When I went on my recruiting visit to Nebraska, I was sold. Broderick Thomas and LeRoy Etienne were my hosts and I just felt so comfortable with those guys and felt that Nebraska was the place for me.”
Pierce remembers a funny story that became a big deal during Cooper’s recruitment.
“The LSU coaches claimed I recruited Reggie illegally, but I didn’t. I had run out of visits at his high school…this is back in the day when you can sign the kid at the school. So I signed Reggie Cooper on the hood of a Cadillac, and that photo was run in the Times-Picayune sports section with a question mark as the headline,” Pierce laughed. “The Cadillac was my rental car but they were questioning whose car it really was. But I couldn’t go on the school grounds because I ran out of visits, so I had Reggie come out to me and sign his letter of intent on the hood of my car.”
So when Cooper signed with Nebraska he helped sway Mickey Joseph, who was the Louisiana Offensive Player of the Year and the top option quarterback in the nation, to come with him.
Cooper didn’t know what position he would end up playing at NU. In high school, he played tight end, defensive end, strong safety and returned punts and kickoffs, but NU was recruiting him to play either safety or defensive end.
“I didn’t know what to expect,” Cooper said of his first season at Nebraska. “I didn’t plan on making the varsity team or travel squad. But once we started practice, I knew I could compete with the other guys on the team and ended up not redshirting. I grew into the strong safety position and played a lot on special teams that year.”
One of the highlights of Cooper’s freshman year was his first time running out of the tunnel in Memorial Stadium.
“When we came out of the tunnel, all I saw was red. It was absolutely amazing and shocking how loud and enthusiastic the crowd was! I hadn’t seen anything like that before in my life….it was like magic!"
Cooper made many more of those runs out of the tunnel and became one of the best defensive backs in Husker history.
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Shane Gilster is the Editor of Big Red Report Magazine. His stories focus mainly on catching up with former Huskers and examining Nebraska athletic history.