While injuries to senior wide receivers Cam Camper and E.J. Williams Jr. midway through Friday’s game isn’t what head coach Tom Allen wanted to see, it allowed another receiver to step up.
“I feel like not playing as much last year, I just didn’t believe in myself,” redshirt freshman wide receiver Omar Cooper Jr. said after the 41-7 rout of Indiana State University on Friday.
After rarely seeing the field last season, Cooper Jr. saw increased action against the Sycamores in part because of the pair of injuries. Cooper Jr. was targeted 12 times, totaling seven receptions for 107 yards.
“(I’m) really, really pleased,” Allen said after the win. “Not surprised. I’ve just always felt like he was special. Watched him play in high school many times, and that’s just what he did.”
Cooper Jr.’s first career catch — a 31-yard reception — came with 10 minutes and four seconds remaining in the first quarter.
“I feel like after that, I was able to get in a good little groove and feel more comfortable out there,” Cooper said after the game.
Not only did his first reception allow him to settle into the game, Cooper Jr. said talking to himself helps him mentally and allows him to improve daily.
“I’m a big talk to myself guy, get in my head, just tell myself ‘You know what you can do. You can go out there and perform at any level. You just got to show everybody else that you can do it too,’” Cooper Jr. said after his breakout performance. “It's something that helps me out a lot mentally and getting me to perform better and better every day.”
Cooper Jr. also attributes his development to his relationship with his counterpart junior Donaven McCulley. The two were formerly one of the state’s best wide receiver/quarterback duos at Lawrence North High School in Indianapolis. While McCulley transitioned into a wide receiver prior to last season, the two continue to have a relationship that allows them to support each other.
“That’s one of the greatest feelings,” Cooper Jr. said. “We can always talk to each other and see what mistakes one made or what we did good on one play and tell each other to make each other better every day — in practice and in games.”
In addition to teammates like McCulley, Cooper Jr. said he feels the coaching staff put the offense in a position to succeed this week.
“I feel like it was a good performance tonight,” Cooper Jr. said. “The coaches had a great gameplan going into the game which helped us out a lot and put us all in the right positions and made the right play calls.”
While Cooper Jr.’s breakout performance against the Sycamores proved that he could be a difference maker for Hoosiers, Allen explained he needs contributions from everyone to win.
With Friday marking Cooper Jr.’s first collegiate game with a reception – let alone seven of them — he remains focused on improving throughout the season.
“I just want to be the best receiver I can be for myself,” Cooper Jr. said. “There isn’t a standard right now, just want to go out there and keep performing at a good level every game.”
Although the quarterback competition between redshirt freshman Tayven Jackson and Brendan Sorsby has captured the attention of fans, Cooper Jr. feels comfortable with each of the two.
“I love both of our quarterbacks; Tayven and Brendan,” Cooper Jr. said. “They both play well. I feel like they both can play very well and you never know who will be out there to help us win.”
With a final decision set to be made before the clash with the University of Louisville on Sept. 16, Cooper Jr. explained his excitement to take the field at Lucas Oil Stadium once again.
“That will be my second time ever playing there and my first time was against our rivals, so being there again will be a dream come true,” Cooper Jr. said.