LEHI — The way it all ended was as close to perfect as it gets for a high school football player. Shortly after Lehi's 55-17 trouncing of Skyridge in the 5A state championship game, the media surrounded Cammon Cooper while he basked in what was the accumulation of years of hard work toward the ultimate moment.
The moment wasn't just about him, however, but for his family and the tight-knit Lehi community, of which the 6-foot-4 signal-caller has benefitted from immensely while breaking records, becoming a state champion and being named as 2017's Mr. Football.
The media soon found their way to Cooper's coach, Ed Larson, who unabashedly pronounced his quarterback as the best the state has ever produced. It's a claim often given haphazardly by a biased coach caught up in the moment, but in Cooper's case, the numbers and the accomplishments give a lot of credence to Larson's claim.
Cooper finished his Lehi career with at least nine high school state records, including career touchdown passes (118) and most yards thrown in a single season (4,726), which he set this year.
"It really was the perfect way to end it," reflected Cammon's father, Cole Cooper, who also works as an assistant coach on Larson's staff. "For us, with all our strong ties and pride in the Lehi community — I couldn't imagine a better way to end it."
An Old Leather Helmet
Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News
For Cole Cooper, part of his office decor is an old leather helmet that was worn by his grandfather, Gary Cooper, when playing for the Pioneers years ago. It speaks to the pride Cole takes in not only his family legacy, but the legacy of Lehi High School and the community he's part of.
Several Coopers have starred for Lehi over the years, including Cole's father, who is also named Gary and Cole himself, who went on to play quarterback at Ricks College and then at Weber State.
"We bleed purple in this family," Cole said. "It's not just my father, and his father, but all my brothers — and we all played quarterback. We love it here. We love the tradition and we've never wanted to be anywhere else."
For Cammon, he has fond memories of attending Lehi football games just about every Friday night growing up. But while most would sit out the game in the stands, the future state champion would spend a lot of his time doing what he's done since a very young age.
"Just beyond the north end zone there used to be a grass field and all the kids on the youth team would play over there during games," Cammon said. "Lehi wasn't always good back then, but we'd play our own games and it really helped us all develop a strong sense of community, I think."
As mentioned, Cammon has been developing quarterback skills since about the time he first walked. His mother, Tara Cooper, has fond memories of Cole teaching his first son proper quarterback technique at a very young age.
"Seriously, we have the video to prove it," Tara said. "Cole was teaching him a three-step drop when he was just this tiny little thing with the ball in his hand. And he loved it. It's been a part of him every step of the way."
As for Tara's family, they've contributed heavily to Cammon's love and pursuit of football as well.
"My dad (Roger Nield) played football at BYU and he's now a coach, so football is a big thing in my family as well," Tara, whose cousin is former Mr. Basketball Jesse Wade, said. "So football is definitely in the blood with Cammon and it's been a great thing to watch him grow up playing the game he loves."
His own autographed helmet
| Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News
Cammon showed up for his photo shoot with his own helmet, which had then been covered with autographs from many of his teammates that were part of the 2017 championship team. Although it's yet to find a permanent place, it won't be a surprise if many years from now Cammon displays it in his own office, much like his father does with his grandfather's leather helmet.
Cammon is quick to credit all of those who signed his helmet for whatever individual success he's achieved, among several others.
"We've been really tight since we all started playing together in fourth grade," Cammon said. "In little league we've always been a dominant team, so we always sort of knew we could develop into a really good high school team and possibly even a state champion team."
While Cammon and his teammates' premonitions ultimately became a reality, getting there was far from easy.
The foundation of Skyridge High School in 2016 literally cut Lehi's student population and football numbers in half, with Lehi struggling to just three wins in 2015 after going winless during the 2014 season. One could easily assume the Pioneers' immediate future would be shaky, but Cammon and his teammates kept at it and showed strong signs during the 2016 season of what they'd ultimately become this year.
"We had to play in Region 4, but we were able to compete against the best teams in the state and it really set the mood for this year — knowing we could compete with anybody," Cammon said of his team, which ended its 2016 season with a loss to eventual state champion Bingham in the quarterfinal round.
Lehi quarterback Cammon Cooper runs the ball in for a touchdown, putting Lehi up 14-0 over Skyridge after the PAT, in the 5A football state championship game at Rice-Eccles Stadium in Salt Lake City on Friday, Nov. 17, 2017. | Spenser Heaps, Deseret News
The 2017 season brought about much-needed realignment, and even though Lehi's numbers dictated a relegation to the 4A classification, Cammon and his teammates wanted to prove themselves against 5A competition. Part of that 5A competition included Skyridge, which was having a lot of surprising success of its own, to the point where the Falcons advanced to the state championship.
Although Lehi players and coaches were mum on any feelings toward Skyridge leading up to the championship game, it was apparent a win against the program which cut the Pioneers' numbers in half would add that much to the endeavor.
"Doing it against Skyridge — yeah, it really was the perfect way to end it, I guess you could say," Cammon admitted.
Worth ethic and Washington State
Immediately following Cammon's photo shoot he was off to go work out with his trainer, Dave Stroshine. Tara says that's typical.
"He loves everything involved with football and becoming a great football player," Tara said. "He has a passion for all the work involved and that's been a huge thing in his development. He's had that drive and passion and that has to come from the kid himself. Fortunately he has that."
"He's always been self-motivated," Cole added. "People see the finished product, but it's come about by a lot of hard work and dedication. He understands the daily grind involved and that's been a big thing in his development."
Cammon also has a calm, sort of laid-back demeanor to him, which has also served him well over the years.
Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News
"I always say that it could have become his best attribute or his worst attribute," Cole said of his son's demeanor. "Fortunately it's become a strength for him and he's just confident. He doesn't let little things get to him and he's learned to use his sort of quiet demeanor as a strength."
All of his hard work led to several offers to play college football, including one from Washington State and its head coach Mike Leach. While Cammon considered both BYU and Utah, he chose the Cougars due to their passing tradition and the general feeling he had when visiting the Pullman, Washington campus.
"It's the best fit for me all around," Cammon said. "Pullman sort of feels like him with how the community is. I also love coach Leach and how he is and how he coaches. I'm very excited to play and learn from him even more."
Cammon plans to enroll at Washington State for winter semester, which means leaving home on Jan. 5. While there he plans to keep working as he has — realizing the process to prove himself starts all over again with a new challenge.
"It starts all over in a few weeks, so I have to be ready for it and I can't really rest or take some time off, you know?" Cammon said.
But has for what he has accomplished, he'll always be proud of it while looking back at his high school career with a lot of fond memories.
"Being named Mr. Football is something I've had a goal to get, so it's definitely a great honor. I've wanted it since I saw Austin (Kafentzis) get it, along with some other great players, so getting it is something I'm really grateful for," Cammon said. "I have a lot to be grateful for — from my great coaches, my parents, my teammates — everyone who has helped along the way. It's been an awesome experience and I'll always be grateful and proud for what we accomplished at Lehi."