Cooper getting defensive for WSU

Lineman makes strides during spring practices

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photoXavier Cooper Washington State defensive lineman

PULLMAN — Xavier Cooper hasn’t played in a football game in nearly three years, but the former Tacoma prep star says the wait will soon pay dividends for himself and the Washington State Cougars.

“I’ve had a lot of time to work on technique and get stronger in the weight room. That’s helped a lot,” Cooper said.

Cooper originally signed a letter of intent with the Cougars in February 2010, but he delayed enrollment until January 2011 due to academic problems.

Former WSU coach Paul Wulff raved about Cooper’s practice performances last fall, saying Cooper “without question” would have seen regular duty with the Cougars if he had been academically eligible.

Cooper, a 6-foot-4, 278-pounder, has been playing defensive end and tackle with the No. 1 defense this spring. The Cougars hold their final spring scrimmage at 1 p.m. today at Joe Albi Stadium in Spokane.

“It took me a while to get used to the homework and all that stuff,” Cooper said. “But once I got it down, I feel I’m adapting well.”

Cooper certainly seems to have adapted well to the 3-4 base defense the new coaching staff has installed. The Cougars also will line up in their old 4-3 look at times.

“The 3-4 thing,” Cooper said, “especially from my standpoint, I think is very good because I’m strong enough to handle two men (at tackle), but I’m also quick enough to take them (blockers) outside.”

“He has good hands and good, deceiving moves,” offensive tackle John Fullington said. “He’s got good feet.”

New defensive line coach Joe Salave’a, an intense and energetic coach who played defensive tackle for eight years in the NFL, said Cooper is a “high-energy kid” who provides “a physical attribute to our front line.”

“I feel I can get on the field (and compete) with anybody,” Cooper said.

“I think he’ll do really good for us,” Fullington said.

Cooper is a bit small for a Pac-12 defensive tackle, but Salave’a said, “He’s still growing … I’m excited and looking forward to our summer workouts, because I think our kids are finally getting exposed to some real hard-nosed (weight)lifting.”

Everyone seems in agreement that new head coach Mike Leach and an entire set of new assistant coaches are more demanding than the previous staff.

“They’re pushing us beyond what some people know,” Fullington said. “Basically, we’re just learning as a team how to work hard.”

“I give the utmost respect to Paul Wulff and the guys that recruited me,” Cooper said, “because I wouldn’t be here without them. Coach Leach and this staff, they want to win, so I’ve got to respect that.”

The Cougars have promoted their spring game like never before. Athletic director Bill Moos says he hopes to draw a school-record 10,000 fans or more this afternoon.

Last year’s spring game — the first at Albi in years — drew 4,076. That’s about twice as many as the games often drew in Pullman.