Photo Credit: John S. Peterson

New Secondary Coach Evan Cooper Sees NFL Talent in the Nebraska Defensive Backs

January 12, 2023

Evan Cooper and Matt Rhule go back 15 years. Rhule coached the Temple defensive line when Cooper played there. When Cooper realized they could talk football and relate to people on the same level, he aligned with Rhule.

Rhule and Cooper stayed in constant communication as the Nebraska job was imminent. When the deal finalized, Cooper was one of the first ones Rhule called.

“I told him when he was ready for me I’ll hop on the jet and we’ll go,” Cooper said. Rhule replied “How about tomorrow?”

That was six weeks ago. “The rest is history,” Cooper said.

Nebraska’s new secondary coach is a football guy and comes from a football family. He wanted to be Mel Kiper Jr., scouting film and evaluating talent. He also likes molding young players and developing them. This job gives him the best of both worlds.

Cooper’s enthusiasm quickly followed him to the recruiting trail when he took over as secondary coach. The former director of player personnel for the Carolina Panthers already evaluated recruits Nebraska offered and, ultimately, signed. Rhule said in his Early National Signing Day press conference that Cooper was responsible for the hidden gems and evaluation of guys like Jaylen Lloyd.

“They don’t always have to look how people think they should look,” Cooper said. “If they have the talent and necessary skills, the program will push them to be there, in the classroom, on the field. It’ll take care of itself.”

There’s nothing more frustrating than missing on the homegrown All-Americans, Cooper said. So locking down backyard talent, in places the recruiting staff is familiar, was a top priority.

When asked what his recruiting pitch is to recruits, he said there’s not a specific recruiting pitch. It’s about getting to know the recruits and relating to them on a personal level. He believes in Rhule and the vision of the staff. Cooper said, when asked, he starts with the program status of Nebraska. But honesty becomes the pitch, above all.

“A lot of the times I tell the kids, honestly, we’ll do as much for you as you do for us,” Cooper said. “Because I’ve seen it so many times. We’ve recruited kids without much recruiting traction and watched them turn into NFL players.”

Cooper said the entire staff is aligned in their evaluations, what they’re looking for in players, and in how they want the team to perform during games. He trusts defensive coordinator Tony White. He complimented White’s football intelligence while acknowledging there’s open conversation between position coaches and the coordinator.

The new position coach complimented Nebraska’s current stable of defensive backs. He said they played hard and has already met with Marques Buford, Quinton Newsome and Malcolm Hartzog. They’re all on the same page. Cooper is excited to coach that entire room. He said there’s a good blend of veterans and young players in that room right now.

Cooper said his NFL background taught him to narrow his vision because he has a more precise idea of what gets players to that level. He shared his belief that there are NFL-caliber defensive backs on Nebraska’s roster already. Cooper said he’ll coach the entire secondary but there will be times when he focuses on corners, nickels and safeties separately.

Overall, the coaching staff is competitive. They want their entire team to be competitive too. Cooper has a healthy competitiveness with new wide receivers coach Garrett McGuire. Their competitive natures go against each other—receivers versus corners—at practice and most mornings. The duo works out together every day starting at 4:30 a.m., Cooper said. Cooper described McGuire as a grinder. The new secondary coach also said the staff is lucky to have McGuire, who is now a first-time positional coach in college. McGuire’s also a former quarterback and there’s certain traits that come with that.

“He is going to help us tremendously,” Cooper said. “He’s been a quarterback his entire life and, as you know, quarterback is always in a leadership position.”

The Miami native attested that Rhule didn’t fill his roster with just familiar faces and friends. The staff is filled with personable people who hold a similar vision, Cooper said. They all work in tandem and not one stands apart from the others.

“Coach is not going to hand out the DB job to a friend,” Cooper said. “That person will have to think like coach and work hard. No. 1, before anything else, they’ll have to genuinely care about the players that they coach.”

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