Tuesday, July 10, 2018
THE GREATNESS OF JASON COOPER
As I was running in New Canaan on a sun-splashed Thursday afternoon, a Jeep Wrangler
with its top off, was waiting for the light to turn green at the intersection of South Avenue
and White Birch Road. I recognized the mountain of a man in the driver's seat who made
the Jeep seem like a Tonka Toy. We had been football teammates at New Canaan High
School and college rivals, attending schools just eight miles apart in North Carolina.
With his mega-watt grin and booming voice, my old friend yelled out, "Devils!", which
brought a big smile to my face. Jogging past his Jeep, I bellowed out, "Big Coooooop!
You are still da man."
Two days later, Jason Cooper, an extraordinary athlete and an even better person, was gone.
He died of an apparent heart attack at the age of 52. His death sent shockwaves through this
bucolic town along Connecticut's Gold Coast.
Cooper was the man during his playing days at New Canaan High School. The football gods
seemingly poured him into a uniform and announced, "This is what a football player should
look like." Cooper was blessed with great size, strength, and immense hands that swallowed up nearly every ball thrown his way. He had a motor that never quit, playing through the whistle
while destroying everyone in his path. Cooper could've played any position on the field and
been named all-state at every one of them. He was that good and that talented. Cooper was
eventually named all-state at tight end while leading Lou Marinelli to the first of his 12
Cooper was all-state in lacrosse as well. At 6'4" and 225 pounds, Coop was a man among boys
and virtually unstoppable playing attack for Coach Howard Benedict's New Canaan Rams.
After graduating from New Canaan, Cooper ascended to even greater heights at Duke
University where he played every single game through his junior year, catching 68 passes. He
also played on the Blue Devils lacrosse team for two years which is quite an amazing feat.
A broken ankle late in his senior year on the gridiron hurt Cooper's chances of being drafted,
but signed free-agent deals with the Miami Dolphins and Dallas Cowboys. However,
he never played in an NFL game.
I can go on and on about the great athlete Cooper was - there were few better in the history
of New Canaan sports - but that would take away from shining the light on the person Cooper
was. As tremendous as Coop was on the playing fields, he was even better off them. He was so humble, so giving, and such a loyal friend and teammate.
I used to get a chuckle when Coop would walk into a restaurant or bar with his close friends,
many of whom were much smaller than him (who wasn't?). They would always be in the lead
with this incredible hulk following close behind. They'd have confident looks on their faces,
ones that seemingly wanted to blurt out, "Hey, if you mess with us, then you'll have to mess
Incredibly gifted and extraordinarily accomplished, Cooper never bragged or started a sentence
by saying, "I did this...." or acted like he was better than others. Coop just wanted to be one
of the guys. He was a man's man whom women adored. Cooper was truly loved, admired,
and respected by everyone he came in contact with. We weren't best friends, but he always made
me and many others feel like we were.
On a hot summer night in 1988, I was in Durham playing in a Carolina League game for
the Lynchburg Red Sox. While in the on-deck circle, I heard a booming voice that was quite
familiar to me. "Hey, Devils!" I turned around and it was Coop with a few of his football
teammates at Duke. He had come down to see me play and just say hello. Two innings later,
I hit a grand slam for my first professional home run. Coop was going crazy. Next time I was
in the on-deck circle, he came down to see me and said, "We have to celebrate that one!"
And boy, did we ever. We went to Chapel Hill and closed the town down. Cooper wouldn't
let me pay for a thing and offered to take care of the fine for breaking curfew - which I did
after arriving back at the hotel close to 6 a.m.
That is one memory of Coop that I'll never forget.
While working at a gym one summer, the owner, who was getting rid of some Nautilus
equipment, told me that "if you can move it, you can have it." I needed the biggest and
strongest person in New Canaan to help me. That, of course, was Jason Cooper. When I
asked him, he didn't hesitate - and didn't expect anything in return for giving his time and extraordinary muscle.
That was Jason Cooper.
Cooper was an amazing guy who touched a lot of lives. He was blessed with extraordinary
gifts and used them to accomplish many amazing things. Jason Cooper was a beautiful
human being-a great, great man who left this world far too soon.
We will never forget you, Coop.