October 01, 2015

(STATS) - There's the stunning first season of 2013. The one-handed catches. The relentless effort in his national coming-out party against Oregon in this season's opener.

Very little about Cooper Kupp's career at Eastern Washington hasn't been eye-opening. Becoming the latest member of his family to play in the NFL, however, will be anything but surprising.

Kupp burst onto the scene as a redshirt freshman two years ago, stunning the FCS world with a 1,691-yard, 21-touchdown season in which he averaged 18.2 yards per reception. He broke Randy Moss' FCS record of 20 TDs by a freshman and won the Jerry Rice Award as the top freshman in the FCS, taking it by the largest margin in the three-year history of the honor.

"It was a great honor, obviously," Kupp said during Big Sky media days in July. " ... I was doing homework on my desk and got a FaceTime (call), and Jerry Rice's face popped up on my phone - 'Oh! Hey!'

" ... It was something I'll never forget."

Proving it was no fluke, he followed it up with a school-record 104 catches for 1,431 yards and 16 scores last season.

It's been business as usual this year with 46 catches, 759 yards and 10 TDs though four games. Kupp's brilliance has started to seem almost routine, as he's reached 100 yards receiving in 19 of his 32 college games.

He's come through in the clutch the last two weeks, totaling 22 receptions, 334 yards and five touchdowns in a pair of wins to help the No. 9 Eagles climb out of an 0-2 hole going into their bye. Kupp's 22-yard TD reception from Jordan West with 1:53 left sealed a 28-20 victory over Sacramento State last Saturday - Eastern rallied from a 20-7 halftime deficit - and he scored three times in a 55-50 shootout against Montana State on Sept. 19.

The sense that Kupp might be playing at the wrong level of college football is backed up by his big-picture numbers. His 243 receptions, 3,881 yards and 47 touchdowns during his career lead all of Division I during that time going into this week's action.

He needs three TDs to tie Rice's career total and 12 in the final seven games to set the all-time FCS record for receiving scores, set by New Hampshire's David Ball from 2003-06.

"I'd be shocked if you could show me a better receiver at any level in the country," coach Beau Baldwin said after Eastern's 61-42 loss to Oregon on Sept. 5. "Usually I don't talk like that, but that's how I feel right now and think that we have. We are very fortunate to have him as a leader and player on this football team."

Baldwin's comments hardly seemed an overstatement after that contest. The Ducks, then ranked seventh in the FBS Top 25, watched in amazement as Kupp caught 15 passes for 246 yards - both Autzen Stadium records - and three touchdowns.

Perhaps more impressive than his elusive quickness and ability to find seams in the Oregon secondary was Kupp's consistent breaking of tackles and picking up yardage after the catch.

His two most memorable efforts were a 73-yard catch-and-run in which he held off safety Arrion Springs with a right-handed stiff arm along the sideline for the final 25 yards, hitting the pylon with the ball before being ruled out at the 2-yard line; and a 16-yard score in which he used a left-handed stiff arm to push off cornerback Ugo Amadi for the final 10 yards and reach the corner of the end zone.

"Well, he's Superman," Oregon defensive backs coach John Neal said. "He's got some of the greatest stats I've ever seen. He's one of those players that when you watch him, he's in complete command of everything. ... He's like a quarterback because I notice him constantly, shifting his hands and talking to people, telling them what to do.

"The offense runs through him, so that's a lot of burden on him but it's easy for him. He's gonna find a way to get open."

Neal's comments seem all the more complimentary considering they came BEFORE the game. He also reportedly called Kupp a potential first-round pick in April and sought him out after the contest to congratulate him.

Of course, it's not hard to understand the reverence from an assistant coach from one of college football's top offensive programs. Kupp broke the school and Big Sky records for career touchdowns with his 47th against Sacramento State. The previous record holder, the Eagles' Eric Kimble, set his mark in 46 games over four years (2002-05).

Kupp, a member of the STATS FCS Offensive Player of the Year Watch List, exceeded it in 32 games and less than 2 1/2 seasons.

"The record he broke was by a student-athlete who had an amazing career here at Eastern, and it was a pleasure to coach Eric Kimble," said Baldwin, the offensive coordinator at Eastern from 2003-06. "It was an incredible record that was going to be very hard to break. But Eric would be the first to say he would like no other person to break a record like that because Cooper works for everything he achieves.

"He has amazing ability, but to break a record like that is because of what he does every day to make himself a better player. But no matter how good a football player Cooper is, he's an even better person and teammate."

Already a YouTube star - the videos of three of Kupp's one-handed grabs in games have garnered thousands of hits - he might be ready to become a national TV star on Sundays. Though he's said nothing about whether he'll leave school early for the NFL draft, general managers have to be salivating over a 6-foot-2, 195-pound potential slot receiver who makes tough catches over the middle, fights for yards after the catch and uses strong, sure hands to secure key receptions.

In three games against Pac-12 opponents Oregon, Oregon State and Washington, Kupp has totaled 510 yards and eight touchdowns on 28 catches.

Oh, he also returns punts - 16 for 188 yards and a touchdown in his three seasons.

And despite playing in the FCS, there might not be too many players better prepared to make the leap to the pros. Kupp would be a third-generation NFLer, as his father Craig - a quarterback - was drafted by the New York Giants in the fifth round in 1990 and played one season for the Phoenix Cardinals, and grandfather Jake Kupp spent 12 years in the league as a guard from 1964-75, most of them with New Orleans.

Kupp also spent part of the summers of 2013-15 working at the Manning Passing Academy in Louisiana as a college counselor/coach. He also attended it in high school.

Add in stability in his personal life - Kupp married the former Anna Croskrey, an Eastern Washington track and field athlete, on June 20 - and you've got a driven draft prospect who can draw on plenty of support as he eyes the next level.

"We've only been married for a month now, but already, I've just seen in terms my focus, toward this year, towards what I'm working towards and what we're working towards has improved because I've got her behind me," Kupp said during media days.

Just another advantage for a player who appears to have everything going his way.

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