Cooper keeps on going

Published 10:20 am Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Michael Cooper, a former Vicksburg High, Hinds and Mississippi College star, takes a drink during a match with his current team, Real United FC. (Courtesy of Real United FC)

Michael Cooper, a former Vicksburg High, Hinds and Mississippi College star, takes a drink during a match with his current team, Real United FC. (Atluan McDonald/Above Average Photography)

Former Vicksburg High star playing with AAU squad on Coast

At 25 years old, Michael Cooper found himself in an odd place in his sporting life.

The former soccer star at Vicksburg High, Hinds Community College and Mississippi College was too good and too passionate about his game to stop playing, yet not quite good enough to play professionally.

Fortunately, he found a way to both scratch his competitive itch and perhaps further his career.

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Cooper is playing this summer with the Real United FC RiverHawks, an adult AAU team based in Moss Point. It’s a team largely made up of former college players.

Michael Cooper

Michael Cooper

“It’s a way of making connections, and trying to get soccer started on the Coast. We’re trying to build soccer down here,” Cooper said.

One of those connections, a former roommate, might be the key to Cooper’s soccer future. He latched on with a pro team in New Zealand, and offered to help Cooper land a spot if he could.

“He said if you want to go, we’ll see if we can go together,” Cooper said. “I want to at least try to do something while I’m still motivated to train and stay in shape. The clock is ticking a little bit, but I’m just taking it one game at a time, one day at a time.”

Cooper is hopeful that situation will work out in 2016, but for now he’s trying to keep his game sharp with the RiverHawks.

Real United FC plays a 13-game schedule running from late May through early September. It’s lost both of its games so far, including a 10-3 setback on the road against the Jackson-based GFC Legends last weekend.

Cooper had a goal and an assist against the Legends, as well as a fun time. He said he knew most of his opponents from his college days and various leagues around Central Mississippi.

“It was an experience,” Cooper said. “I got to see a bunch of guys that I played with in college. It was a team I had played with before, and wanted to play with for indoor and 7-on-7 tournaments.”

Cooper made his name in soccer as a speedy goal scorer. The 2005 and 2006 Vicksburg Post Player of the Year scored 58 goals in his last two high school seasons and helped Vicksburg High reach the Class 5A championship game once and the state semifinals twice.

He went on to Hinds and became a two-time All-Region 23 player, then to Mississippi College where he set the school’s single-season record with 20 goals as a junior. He was the American Southwest Conference Offensive Player of the Year in 2009, and an All-ASC first team selection in 2010.

With the RiverHawks, however, he’s serving more as a setup man by playing in the midfield.

“I had to switch roles. I’m more in the middle of the field now, because we had some injuries and some guys haven’t come back to the team yet,” Cooper said. “I have more responsibilities now on defense as well as offense.”

Cooper, although he’s in his first year with the team, is also one of the oldest players on the roster. That’s put him in the position of a veteran leader while playing with guys three and four years his junior.

“It’s different, because I’m used to being one of the younger guys or in the middle. My birthday is so late in the year that I always played with people older than me,” Cooper said. “The experience balances things out. Playing against people younger than you is like playing in college again. It’s all about what I learned over the years.”

While Cooper is older than most of his teammates, however, he’s certainly not over the hill. The 25-year-old is still spry enough to keep up with anyone, whether it’s in a highly competitive AAU game, or just a friendly pickup match on the side.

“I still feel like I’m in my prime, because I play regularly and run,” he said. “I play soccer at least four times a week. I feel like I’m capable of playing with the younger guys. I still feel the same as when I was younger and try just as hard.”

About Ernest Bowker

Ernest Bowker is The Vicksburg Post's sports editor. He has been a member of The Vicksburg Post's sports staff since 1998, making him one of the longest-tenured reporters in the paper's 140-year history. The New Jersey native is a graduate of LSU. In his career, he has won more than 50 awards from the Mississippi Press Association and Associated Press for his coverage of local sports in Vicksburg.

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