Saturday, Jan. 24, 2015 | 2 a.m.
He'd said no to coaching jobs at the next level multiple times before. This job was too good to pass on.
Hunkie Cooper left Canyon Springs High in North Las Vegas at the beginning of the month to become the wide receivers coach at San Diego State. The university officially announced the hiring this week.
“The purpose of me being at Canyon Springs was to give the kids hope,” Cooper said. “I’ve turned down jobs before because I was afraid if I left, those kids would lose hope. But it’s time. The program is set to where it will continue without me. Other coaches will take my place and we’ll still have 100 percent gradation rate. It will still feel like I’m there. The only difference is another coach will be yelling at the referees on Friday night.”
Cooper, the Arena Football League Hall of Famer, posted a 43-20 record in six seasons at Canyon Springs. Previous opportunities to leave for the college game weren’t seriously considered because Cooper had two children at Canyon Springs, including A.J. on the football team, and insisted he be part of their high school experience. But A.J. graduated in 2013 and San Diego State appeared to be the perfect fit.
San Diego State offensive coordinator Jeff Horton was the UNLV offensive coordinator in the 1980s when Cooper played for the Rebels. When Horton reached out, Cooper knew this was the job to pull him away.
“He’s like a second dad to me. I call him ‘Big Daddy,’” Cooper said of Horton. “We always talked about getting back together one day.”
Cooper will be reunited at San Diego State with running back D.J. Pumphrey, who was the Nevada Gatorade Player of the Year in 2012 at Canyon Springs and considers Cooper a mentor. Pumphrey is a star at San Diego State, rushing for 1,867 yards and 20 touchdowns last fall during his sophomore campaign.
Not even Pumphrey could accomplish what this past season’s Canyon Springs team was able to pull off. It was the first Sunrise Region team in more than 40 games to beat perennial power Liberty for the most significant win in the Cooper tenure. They had lost to Liberty by close margins the past two seasons in the playoffs, but beat the Patriots to win the Northeast League crown.
The playoffs, though, weren’t as memorable. Top-seeded Canyon Springs was upset by Basic in the first round, and Liberty won another region championship.
“That loss is going to be tough for us to forget,” Cooper said.
Cooper was the second local coach to take a college job this offseason. Gorman's Tony Sanchez was hired as the head coach at UNLV.