OREM — Cooper Legas has a long list of impressive athletic traits and leadership skills.
But Orem wide receiver Puka Nacua said it’s his “rubber hips” that make him one of the best prep quarterbacks in the country.
“He bends one way, and people just bounce off of him,” said the USC commit with a laugh. “It’s crazy. We watch film and he never really stops his feet, you can see him, he just bends over, or leans one way, and people miss him. ...Cooper is just a phenomenal athlete.”
Legas leads the state in passing yards with 4,005, and he is second in the country in total offensive yards with 5,005. The No. 1 quarterback is California’s Jayden Daniels, who is being pursued by Utah and UCLA, and he has just 107 yards more than Legas.
Those numbers are just one of the reasons Nacua is baffled as to why college coaches aren’t beating down Legas’ door.
“Cooper is going to be the real deal at whatever school gives him a chance,” Nacua said. “He’s super smart, he works so hard, and he really does love the game.”
Legas’ athleticism has never been in doubt.
He led Orem to the 4A title last season, and he’s a two-time state champion javelin thrower and a state champion in wrestling (195 pounds).
It’s that wrestling experience that Nacua said helps create the gritty competitor that Legas is on the football field.
“I never see Coop stepping out of bounds,” Nacua said. “If he does, there is a guy by his feet that he just trucked.”
His willingness to play offense like a linebacker is what Orem head coach Jeremy Hall pointed to when asked what single trait made Legas the state’s best.
“I think it’s toughness,” he said. “I can’t think in six years, I don’t think he’s ever been injured. That’s durability.”
Legas may be genetically predisposed to the position he’s played since he first put on a helmet in elementary school.
“My dad played high school football in Nebraska, and he was going to play at BYU,” Legas said. “But he hurt his shoulder on his (LDS) Mission, and he ended up playing safety at Rick’s College.”
His older brother, Gunnar Legas, was a standout quarterback at Orem, who will enroll at BYU in January after battling thyroid cancer for the last nine months. The cancer was diagnosed while Gunnar was serving a mission in Africa last winter.
Cooper said he was happy to play receiver when his brother played quarterback, but he feels most at home running the offense.
What he likes about the role is that so much of it is determined by effort.
“I like it because I feel like it’s a position you can really practice to make yourself good at,” he said. “A lot of other positions – receiver, defense, line — genetics will make you good at them. Quarterback is more mental, more about practice and technique. You can make yourself better by working hard.” And if there is a second trait that explains Legas’ athletic success it’s his work ethic.
“A lot of guys will lead vocally,” Hill said. “Coop is not vocal. But he leads by example. He leads in the ways he’s supposed to – shows up early, the last one to leave. Actions speak louder than words, that’s him.”
Not only has he never missed a practice since Hill’s been coaching him (two in little league and four in high school), he’s never even been late.
“If you could build a football player, Cooper is who it would be,” Hill said. “He’s a 4.0 kid, taking AP classes, very intelligent, prepared, hard-working, and just a great kid.”
Hill said Legas could be a “Swiss Army knife” for the team if they needed it.
“He has absolutely zero reservations,” Hill said about what it’s like to ask Legas to play a position other than quarterback. “He’s always been phenomenal that way. …If I went to him and said, ‘Coop, in this championship game, we need you at safety.’ …He wouldn’t hesitate. He just wants to help the team win a state championship.” Nacua said the Tigers respect Legas’ ability to turn his competitive intensity on when he steps on the football field.
“I don’t know if there is a word for Cooper,” Nacua said. “In class, he’s really serious and focused. He’s so goofy and relaxed ruing football, but then something switches in him. He steps into the huddle, and everyone on the offense goes silent. He just takes control of things.”
Legas is an unusual mix of confidence and humility. He said football gives him something that wrestling and track do not.
“Football is cool because of the team aspect,” he said. “You have to work with people to reach a goal. You have to figure out how to communicate with people if you want to get a group to achieve the same goal. Wrestling, every day it’s you against one other guy. It’s all on you. Football teaches you to be responsible for your own actions, but then you also have to help other people. You have to work with them if you want to achieve (a championship).”