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Learning the ropes
GSU CB Cooper thrown into fire
090112 GSU FB 01
Georgia Southern freshman cornerback Valdon Cooper snares an interception on a pass by Jacksonville quarterback Trevious Folston and returns it 60 yards for a touchdown in the second quarter on Saturday, Sept. 1, at Paulson Stadium, to put the Eagles up 34-0.

    The announcement  —heard clearly on Paulson Stadium’s new public address system — was not lost on Valdon Cooper.
    As Georgia Southern was warming up on the field prior to its home opener with Jacksonville University it was announced Laron Scott had made the New York Giants’ 53-man squad.
    Scott was an All-American cornerback for the Eagles last year, and had signed as a free agent with the New Orleans Saints last May. After being cut by the Saints he was signed by the Giants as a kick returner and cornerback.
    Scott has since been cut as the Giants made several personnel moves last week after their opener with the Dallas Cowboys.
    However, at the time of the announcement Scott was very much a Giant, and this only put additional pressure on Cooper who was making his debut with Georgia Southern as Scott’s replacement.
    “I heard it,” Cooper said. “I was happy for him, and it’s good for the program.
    “Laron was a very good player here,” Cooper said. “I’m not going to try and be another Laron Scott. I’m just going to be the best player I can be for Georgia Southern.
    “I just want to bring leadership and humbleness, and be a guy you can depend on.”
    Cooper transferred to the Eagle program last December from Illinois, having signed with the Illini out of Elbert County High School where he was highly recruited following a stellar career.
    “Appalachian State, the entire Southern Conference really, Navy, Air Force, Vanderbilt and Wake Forest recruited me,” said Cooper who is a kinesiology major. “West Virginia gave me a couple of looks, too.
    “But, I liked Illinois,” Cooper said. “I went up there in December so I knew about the weather. I have family in Champaign, and the coaches and players were really nice.”
    In high school Cooper was used in a variety of ways by Blue Devil Coach Sid Fritts. As a senior he ran for 906 yards and 12 touchdowns on a 9-2 team which averaged 34 points per game. He also played defensive back and returned kicks.
    At Illinois he was redshirted as a freshman, and then played in 10 games last year including the Illini’s Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl win over UCLA.
    However, after Zook was let go Cooper decided it was time to think about going elsewhere.
    “I knew if I transferred it would be Georgia Southern,” Cooper said. “I knew about the program, and I respected it a lot. I wanted to be with a winner.”
    It didn’t hurt that former high school teammates Seth Martin and Caleb Smith are involved with the program. Martin is a videographer, and Smith works an as equipment manager.
    “I think Coop does a great job,” said cornerbacks coach Orlando Mitjans, Jr. “He came in and fit right in to the program.
    “Valdon has gotten better since he got here,” Mitjans said. “Since he got here he’s a totally different young man. He’s playing with confidence.”
    Cooper made his presence felt against the Dolphins when he picked off a pass and returned it 60-yards for a touchdown in the Eagles’ 41-point, first-half explosion.
    “I can’t take the credit for that,” Cooper said. “For me it was so obvious where the ball was going, and with our defensive scheme I just had to catch it and run.”
    “It was great to see Valdon get the pick-six,” Mitjans said. “It’s funny he said what he did about getting the pick because we tell them to play within the system, and let the game come to them. That’s what he did.”
    The last player to return an interception for a touchdown for Georgia Southern prior to Cooper’s score was Scott who returned one 31 yards against Elon on Sept. 25, 2010.
    Adding to the irony is Georgia Southern’s next game will against the pass happy Phoenix who visit Paulson Stadium on Saturday, Sept. 22.