Those who watch the Cleveland Browns on Sundays see Xavier Cooper playing defensive end on the field, but he went through a lot, and not just offensive lines, to get there.
Cooper had to put in a lot more determination and hard work than some. When he stepped on the campus of Notre Dame College, Cooper spoke about his struggles with school and reading the play book as well as other struggles throughout his life during an assembly of about 100 students in the Performing Arts Center.
Born in Tacoma, Wash., Cooper said he had to learn how to block out distractions from an early age. He had to stay focused growing up in the city, where it can be easy to go down the wrong path. His parents, teachers and an academic adviser helped keep him on the right one.
“At 15 I found out that I have a learning disability,” Cooper said. “I had trouble with reading and writing comprehension.”
Cooper said he did not like hearing people tell him that he had this impediment and started on a mission to prove everyone wrong.
While on the football field, he excelled. Cooper played on his high school team, and scouts from big colleges were looking to recruit him to play at their schools. But his performance in class was not as convincing.
“I struggled in school, and my GPA was really low,” Cooper said. “That chased some colleges away, but Washington State was willing to give me a shot.”
Washington State seemed to be a great fit because it was in the “middle of nowhere” and away from the distractions of his home city. However, before he could continue to chase his dream on the gridiron, Cooper said had to go to community college to get his grades up.
After his grayshirt season, Cooper was ready to take the field, but he had one more problem; a complication while transferring one of his classes caused him to be unqualified to play.
He said he thought about quitting before realizing how far he had come. He pushed on and continued to work to get even better. He refused to let any obstacle stop him.
“You have to destroy what destroys you,” he said. “You have to overcome and chase your dream.”
Cooper did overcome and once his transfer was resolved, he started to chase his dream on the college football field. His junior year he was projected to be drafted into the National Football League. He had to decide whether to stay in school for his senior year.
Ultimately, Cooper decided to declare for the draft so he could better provide for his family. He committed to finishing his degree during his first NFL off season.
Even the draft wasn’t easy for him.
“I had heard that I might go in the first or second round in the draft,” Cooper said. “But after the first two rounds passed, I started to become nervous.”
But his name would be called in the third round when the Browns selected him.
And every time he enters the field on Sunday through the tunnel, he said he thinks about all the people who helped him get to where he is now.
“We all need a strong support system,” Cooper said.