MACHESNY PARK, Ill. (WTVO/WQRF) –In two weeks one of the great high school football careers in the NIC-10 will be finished. Harlem quarterback James Cooper Jr. will take off his Huskies’ uniform for the last time. He’ll move on to bigger things, but his name will likely live on in the Harlem record books and in the conference records books for a long time.
Cooper Jr. holds pretty much every Harlem record for passing. The same could soon be true for the NIC-10. He’s already the conference’s all-time leader in touchdown passes. Going into this weekend he needs only 148 yards passing to become the conference’s all-time leader in passing yards. He’s had some remarkable receivers to throw to the last four years.
“It is amazing,” said Cooper Jr. “Especially Brandt (Hixson), Jalon (Benson), Dezzion (Jordan) and Dom (McCarren)…whoo.”
But there’s also no mistaking Cooper’s skills.
“He’s just hammering it,” said Harlem head coach Bob Moynihan. “He’s reading his reads, hitting his keys. He’s got that dual-threat now.”
On Monday the Chicago Bears honored Cooper as their All-Star High School player for week two. That was after Cooper accounted for six touchdowns against Freeport. He followed that up with six more total touchdowns in week three against Belvidere North.
Cooper’s days as a quarterback started when he was very young.
“For flag football you know right, my first year I played for the Packers I started off as a center for like three games because we had another quarterback. He ended up getting hurt and ever since then I’ve played quarterback, so since I was five.”
The first time I interviewed Cooper he was a student at Harlem middle school. He and two of his buddies had been picked to attend the prestigious Top Gun Kids Camp in Dublin, Ohio. That’s run by current and former NFL players and coaches.
This is what Cooper said about the camp back then in 2015. “The coaches were like, they know a lot of things. I learned like a lot of new things. It was really big.”
Now here he is six years later breaking all kinds of records. So when he was back in middle school did Cooper Jr. ever imagine he’d been setting school and conference records at Harlem?
“I mean, I thought I was always going to be okay. I was going to be a medicore quarterback, and just to come out and break all the records I definitely did not expect that at all.”
As a freshman Cooper shared the quarterback duties on Harlem’s varsity team with Troy King. Cooper remembers his very first varsity touchdown pass to Connor Aldrich against Jefferson.
“Yea. I was rolling out to the right and threw it. It was crazy! As a freshman it was crazy! I threw the ball kind of blind. I didn’t really see it. I threw it all the way down there. All I heard was the crowd go crazy. I was like, that’s the beginning of it all.”
Since that first touchdown pass Cooper has thrown 61 more for Harlem.
In addition to Cooper’s arm strength, accuracy and running ability there’s something else Moynihan sees in Cooper that he admires.
“I think his love and passion for the game. I think he has a genuine love for football.”
Cooper has accomplished so many things at Harlem. When he takes off that Harlem uniform for the last time will he be satisfied?
“I don’t know. I guess, as you know the rivalries in the NIC-10 Hononegah and Boylan. Only I guess you could say I’ve beat them (Boylan) my freshman year, but I had a broken wrist at the time. That’s the only time I’ve beat Boylan. I have yet to beat Hono, so if we can’t do that this year I probably won’t be satisfied.”
NOTE: Cooper and Harlem did defeat Hononegah Saturday afternoon 26-24. Harlem will play Boylan next Saturday. Both teams are undefeated.
NOTE: Coopers’s next team will be one of the top junior college football schools in the Midwest Iowa Western. That lack of a football season last fall meant he didn’t get as many offers as he otherwise would have because college coaches didn’t get to see him play.