Malik Cooper ended his high school career in style and showcased his variety of skills in doing so.
A senior receiver at St. Joseph’s Prep who will sign with Temple on Wednesday, Cooper enjoyed a hat trick, catching a pass for a touchdown, throwing a pass for another score, and returning a punt 47 yards for yet a third TD.
It was all part of St. Joseph’s Prep’s 62-13 win over previously unbeaten Central York to win its third straight PIAA 6A state championship..
In addition to completing a 55-yard scoring pass to Duke recruit Sahmir Hagans, Cooper caught five passes for 114 yards and 79-yard touchdown. He also returned three punts for 66 yards and the one score.
It seems fitting that Cooper threw and caught a touchdown pass. He began his career as a quarterback and didn’t move to wide receiver until his junior year, when he became a first-time starter.
“There were a lot of mixed emotions because I was happy we won, but sad to leave my brothers after the game, knowing it is the last time we would be suiting up together,” Cooper said in a recent phone interview.
What is amazing is that after being a backup quarterback as a sophomore, Cooper was asked to play receiver as a junior. It was a way to get his explosive talents on the field. Nothing against his quarterback skills, but classmate Kyle McCord, an Ohio State recruit, was entrenched as the starter.
So coach Tim Roken didn’t need to do much convincing in asking him to switch to receiver, even though Cooper had been a quarterback ever since he started playing.
“I told him it is not just running fast in a straight line, and credit goes to him and his drive to learn the position and he focused on the little details that made him such a great receiver,” Roken said. “He always caught the ball pretty naturally and obviously he has the speed, but he also has become a very physical blocker.”
That last statement gives an indication of Cooper’s toughness, because most 5-foot-9, 175-pound receivers aren’t known for their blocking.
A love of his city and family is a big reason this Germantown resident will be signing with Temple.
“It is kind of a big deal — I wanted to do this for my city and wanted to stay close to my family and don’t want to leave them,” he said. “They play a huge part in my success.”
Cooper didn’t have to establish a relationship with the person who recruited him, Temple running backs coach Gabe Infante, the former St. Joe’s Prep head coach before joining the Owls staff in February 2019.
“It was kind of weird because I was so used to him being my coach and then as a recruiter I had to talk to him a different way, but it was great,” Cooper said.
Besides being recruited as a receiver, Cooper should compete for time as a return man. And, who knows, his passing skills could be needed if the Owls run a trick play or two.
Cooper hasn’t forgotten how to play quarterback. As a junior, when McCord got hurt late in the season, Cooper quarterbacked the Prep in the final four games, capped by a 35-12 state championship victory over Central Dauphin.
“That was a great experience, being able to help my team like that,” Cooper said.
He said playing for the school was also a great experience. While this year’s team went 6-0 in a shortened season because of the pandemic, it has been described as one of the best in Philadelphia area history. In the most recent USA Today top 25 national rankings, St. Joseph’s Prep is No. 3.
Roken says seven players are headed to Division I schools, with another going as a walk-on. Many times, the best competition came in practice.
“It was an amazing experience,” Cooper said.
And he is hoping for the same at Temple.
Antonio Barber 6-0, 190 WR Jireh Prep, Matthews, N.C.
Malik Cooper 5-9, 175 WR St. Joseph Prep, Philadelphia
Andrew Garwo 6-1, 180 DB Conwell-Egan
Jalen Satchell 6-2 250 OL Avalon, Wheaton, Md.
Amad Anderson Jr. 5-10, 175, So. WR Purdue