Wide receiver from Yakima, Wash., will be recognized as the winner at The Sports Network's FCS Awards Banquet and Presentation Tonight in Philadelphia
First came the records, now comes the reward.
Bursting onto the scene with the best season by a freshman wide receiver in NCAA Football Championship Subdivision history, Cooper Kupp has been selected by The Sports Network as the recipient of the Jerry Rice Award given to the top freshman in FCS football.
The award will be presented later Monday (Dec. 16) at The Sports Network's FCS Awards Banquet and Presentation in Philadelphia. The winners of the Walter Payton Award (FCS outstanding player), Buck Buchanan Award (FCS outstanding defensive player) and Eddie Robinson Award (FCS coach of the year) also will be awarded.
Eastern sophomore quarterback Vernon Adams is one of three finalists for the 27th Annual Payton Award, won previously by Erik Meyer (2005) and Bo Levi Mitchell (2011). That award, bestowed on the outstanding player in the FCS and considered the Heisman Trophy of the former Division I-AA level, will be announced later at about 7 p.m. Pacific time on Monday.
Voting for the awards, conducted by a national panel of sports information and media relations directors, broadcasters, writers and other dignitaries, is based on the regular season. The Jerry Rice Award is named for legendary NFL wide receiver Jerry Rice, who played in the FCS (then Division I-AA) at Mississippi Valley State.
“It’s a great honor to receive an award named after the best receiver of all-time,” said Kupp. “I want to thank my teammates and coaches for pushing me to be better every day. And I want to thank The Sports Network and FCS for making his possible.”
Kupp, a 2012 graduate of Davis High School in Yakima, Wash., has already earned first team All-America honors for a season that has included 85 catches for 1,567 yards and 21 touchdowns. All three are FCS records for a freshman, and his streak of 14 games with a touchdown catch is an overall FCS record.
“It has been a special season,” said Eastern head coach Beau Baldwin. “He spends time in the film room like a quarterback. You have to kick him out of the weight room and make sure he stays balanced as a human because of the passion he has for football.
“He is one of those guys that if he is not watching film he is catching tennis balls with the tennis ball machine in the offseason when you are not allowed to use footballs,” continued Baldwin, who was on the voting list for the Robinson award. “He always is doing things to be better. Everyone comes here with talent to play football, but he maximizes it. He maximizes it to a level that is different from any freshman I have seen.”
“I congratulate Cooper for winning this award,” said Adams, who has thrown 53 touchdown passes this season – 21 to his new target. “It’s a great honor for our entire team. He’s worked hard for it and deserves to be recognized as the best freshman in FCS.”
Kupp spent part of the summer in 2013 working at the Manning Passing Academy as a college counselor/coach. While in high school he previously attended the camp, which is run by Archie Manning, the father of NFL quarterbacks Eli and Peyton Manning. Archie is a former New Orleans Saints teammate of Cooper’s grandfather, Jake Kupp. Jake Kupp was named to the 25-year All-Time Team for the Saints and was inducted into its Hall of Fame in 1991.
Both of his Cooper’s parents, Craig Kupp and Karin Kupp (formerly Gilmer) are members of the Pacific Lutheran University Hall of Fame after competing for the Lutes in football and soccer, respectively. Karin’s father, Tom Gilmer, is also in the PLU Hall of Fame, as well as the Tacoma-Pierce County Sports Hall of Fame.
Cooper’s parents are in Philadelphia to accept on his behalf while the team prepares for its semifinal matchup in the FCS Playoffs .against Towson. Eastern athletic director Bill Chaves and Big Sky Conference commissioner Doug Fullerton will also be in Philadelphia for the festivities.
“I would like to thank my parents and grandparents for teaching me that hard work and overcoming adversity go hand-in-hand,” said Kupp, whose great-uncle, Jeff Kupp, played for EWU from 1982-84. The have helped me embrace the challenge and know than I can overcome anything set before me.
“I want to thank my Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, for without him none of this would be possible,” he added.
Kupp redshirted the 2012 season at Eastern before opening his career with five catches for 119 yards and two touchdowns in his debut against Oregon State on Aug 31, 2013. Eastern won that game 49-46 over the 25th-ranked Beavers, marking just the fourth time a FCS school has defeated a ranked NCAA Football Bowl Division squad.
He has had eight or more catches five times this season, and at least 100 yards on seven occasions. His 205 yards against Idaho State ranks as the sixth-most all-time at EWU. He earned Freshman of the Week honors from The Sports Network twice this season.
With at least one TD reception in all 14 games of his career thus far, he has caught a TD for every 4.0 catches so far. Kupp is averaging 18.4 yards per catch (85-1567), ranking fifth in FCS and tops among freshmen in receiving yards per game (111.9), second in receiving yards and 29th in receptions per game (6.1).
“He took that redshirt year and took his talents to a new level,” added Baldwin. “He has been doing that all his life.”
Cooper Kupp’s Milestones, Records and Rankings in 2013
Cooper Kupp Receiving Touchdowns (21) . . . His 21 TD catches are tied for fourth in FCS history, (21, John Matthews, San Diego 2008), two from third (23, Rob Giancola, Valparaiso, 2003) and three from second (24, David Ball, New Hampshire, 2005). The record is 27 set by Jerry Rice of Mississippi Valley in 1984. He has now broken the 45-year-old Big Sky record (20, Ed Bell, Idaho State, 1969), the school record (19 shared by Nicholas Edwards, 2011, and Eric Kimble, 2004) and the FCS record for most touchdowns by a freshman (19, Randy Moss, Marshall, 1996). With a touchdown reception in all 14 of the games he has played in his EWU career, hebroke the record of 11 consecutive games with a TD catch previously held by Randy Moss from Marshall in 1996 and Cal Poly’s Ramses Barden in 2008 (EWU’s Brandon Kaufman is incorrectly listed in the NCAA record book).
Cooper Kupp Receiving Yards (1,567) . . . Kupp ranks 13th in FCS history, just 50 yards from moving into 10th. The record is 1,850 set by Eastern’s Brandon Kaufman in 2013. Kupp owns the FCS record for receiving yards by a freshman, which was previously 1,196 yards by Sean Price of Appalachian State in 2012. He is currently second in school history behind Kaufman.
Cooper Kupp Receptions (85) . . . Kupp broke the FCS record for receptions by a freshman (81, Sean Price, Appalachian State, 2012). He is currently fourth in school history, and is just two from third and eight from second. The school record is 95 set by Nicholas Edwards in 2011.