VANCOUVER — Thanks to some help from a certain current BC Lion, Shaq Cooper’s decision to join his new team wasn’t a difficult one.
Cooper, who signed as a free agent on Feb 9, spoke to the Lions’ veteran pivot, Mike Reilly, well ahead of putting pen to paper.
“Before I even signed, I talked to Mike Reilly,” Cooper told BCLions.com. “I played with him in my rookie year. He was a big part of me coming here. I was comfortable with him. No disrespect to Trev, Trevor Harris is a great quarterback. He’s a great leader, a great person and I put him and Mike in the same boat. They know how to take care of their players, they know how to motivate their players. They keep you motivated, keep you positive.
“Since I met Mike, he’s been a great dude. As a rookie, I was out there kind of lost and he helped me out in a big way. He helped me out with plays, he helped me learn things I didn’t know in the CFL so I’m glad to be back with Mike.”
Cooper and Reilly were together in 2018 in Edmonton, Cooper’s first season in the CFL. That year, the five-foot-10, 190-pound tailback played in just two games, lining up behind starter C.J. Gable. His first game of his career, he amassed 17 carries for 102 yards while his second saw eight carries for 42 yards.
Reilly’s leadership was on full display in Cooper’s rookie campaign, telling the running back an important piece of advice ahead of his first CFL contest. That’s one of the many reasons that Cooper is thrilled to reunite with his former teammate.
“He was the first quarterback I ever played with in the CFL and he knows what I can do,” said Cooper. “My first game ever playing in the CFL, Mike, he told me, ‘just go out there, don’t worry about anything, just play ball and have fun. Most of all, just have fun with it.’
“That’s what I did and he made it easier and took a lot off my back. Coming in as a rookie, the MOP, everyone is telling me, ‘don’t let Mike get sacked. Do not let Mike get sacked.’ I was told if I let Mike get sacked, I get cut so that was kind of big for me, protecting Mike. That was the most important part, protecting him.”
Cooper spent one more year in Edmonton, once again as the backup to Gable. But the five games that he did play in, the tailback showcased his ability to carry the rock. In his first appearance of the 2019 season, Cooper rumbled for 128 yards and a touchdown on 22 carries against Toronto. He followed that up with three games of 65-plus yards, finishing the year with 361 yards and two majors.
Cooper was expected to be the lead back for the Edmonton Football Team before the 2020 season was cancelled. He’s still expected to be a starter, but for a team one province over in BC.
Along with Cooper, the Lions will be overflowing with dynamic speedsters, after the co-GM duo of Rick Campbell and Neil McEvoy picked up a few other additions during free agency in Lucky Whitehead and Chris Rainey.
That speed, along with playmakers Bryan Burnham and Lemar Durant, and, of course, Reilly, will hopefully help the Lions get to new heights as they look to improve on their 5-13 campaign in 2019.
“I love the game,” Cooper said. “The passion I have for the game, I love it. I hate losing. I love to win. I’m going to go hard. I’m going to go 110 (percent) every time I step on the field. I love guys with me on my team that have that same energy I have on the field.”
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