The football rebuilding process at Washington State took a turn for the worse Friday afternoon when defensive lineman Xavier Cooper informed The News Tribune that he will bypass his senior year and declare for the NFL draft.
“It was a long and hard decision,” Cooper said by phone from his home in Tacoma.
Cooper said he will remain “a Cougar for life,” and he said the football program is “on the way up.” The former Wilson High School star said WSU coaches were “disappointed” he’s leaving early, but were “very supportive” of him.
“Playing in the National Football League has always been a dream of mine,” Cooper said. “I feel I’m mentally and physically ready.”
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Cooper, 23, said he will finish work on his degree in criminal justice by taking internet courses this semester. He plans to leave Sunday for San Diego, where he will train for three months. Now that he’s declared for the draft, Cooper said he expects to be invited to the NFL Scouting Combine and be drafted in the third or fourth round.
Cooper said the NFL Draft Advisory Board advised him to remain in school. Beginning this year, that is the only option the board recommends if a player is not projected to go in the first or second round.
Cooper, a three-year starter at defensive tackle or end, led the 2014 Cougars with five quarterback sacks and 9.5 tackles for loss. He led WSU linemen with 37 total tackles.
Cooper did not earn all-conference honors in the Pac-12 after making honorable mention as a redshirt freshman in 2012. The 6-foot-4, 299-pounder said he believes the 3-4 defense employed by WSU did not always let him display his full range of skills.
Cooper expressed his gratitude to a long list of people at WSU, including former coaches Paul Wulff and Mike Levenseller, current coaches Joe Salave’a, Jason Loscalzo (strength and conditioning) and Mike Leach and academic adviser Heather Erwin. He also thanked his parents for their support.
Salave’a, WSU’s defensive line coach, is a former NFL defensive lineman. Cooper said Salave’a has been “like a second father” to him.
“He’s gotten me ready (for the NFL),” Cooper said. “I think I’ve got a great chance of excelling at the next level because of him.”