PHILADELPHIA -- Jerry Rice has reason to take a liking to Eastern Washington wide receiver Cooper Kupp.
But the legendary Hall of Fame receiver Rice may have to realize Kupp could soar past the prodigious statistics that he produced in college.On Monday, Kupp became the third recipient of the Jerry Rice Award, which honors the FCS national freshman of the year. Rice was on hand at The Sports Network's national awards banquet Monday to present the trophy.
Kupp won by the biggest margin in the history of the award, gaining 80 of the 147 first-place votes and 557 points from a national panel of sports information and media relations directors, broadcasters, writers and other dignitaries. Appalachian State running back Marcus Cox finished second with 259 points, while Sacred Heart quarterback RJ Noel and Youngstown State running back Martin Ruiz tied for third with 202 points each.
Kupp is the first wide receiver to win the Rice Award. Towson running back Terrance West was the inaugural recipient in 2011 and Villanova quarterback John Robertson won last year.
As a redshirt-freshman this year, the 6-foot-2, 195-pound Kupp has had a breakout season unlike any other in FCS history by a rookie wide receiver. In the regular season, he caught 77 passes and 18 touchdowns for the Big Sky Conference champion Eagles, setting a national freshman record with 1,378 receiving yards. A native of Yakima, Wash., Kupp also caught at least one touchdown pass in all 12 of the Eagles' games -- a consecutive game record not just for freshmen, but all FCS receivers.
With EWU's two playoff wins this month, Kupp has pushed the touchdown streak to 14 games. His 85 receptions, 1,567 receiving yards and 21 TD catches have never been reached by a freshman previously.
"Bigger than [the statistics], he maximizes every ounce of his talent," EWU head coach Beau Baldwin said. "We all see he has talent -- lots of talent -- but he has a great work ethic for video study, offseason work and preparation. He understands what teams are doing defensively, how to work a release and knows our entire offense. That allows us to put him in different positions. He understands the concept of every play, not just the receiver position he is playing. We can move him around, and teams can't plan for him to be at one spot all the time -- he's everywhere within our offense.
"It's hard for a freshman to do those things mentally, and then he's also been tough enough to handle hard hits and play through pain. He's a strong-minded young man with a lot of talent, but it's that mental toughness and work ethic that takes him from being a good or great player to one of the best."
Kupp comes from a rich football background: His father, Craig, was a former NFL quarterback, while his grandfather Jake Kupp enjoyed a long NFL career as an offensive guard.
|1.||Cooper Kupp||Eastern Washington||80||21||19||6||4||557|
|2.||Marcus Cox||Appalachian State||16||26||13||13||10||259|
|T3.||RJ Noel||Sacred Heart||8||17||17||13||17||202|
|T3.||Martin Ruiz||Youngstown State||5||16||20||21||11||202|
|8.||Peter Pujals||Holy Cross||3||9||7||13||7||105|
|9.||Tarik Cohen||N. Carolina A&T||4||4||6||4||10||72|
|10.||Marquis Smith||Savannah State||2||4||5||9||9||68|
|12.||Kourtney Berry||Alabama State||2||5||6||2||7||59|
|13.||Gage Steele||James Madison||1||6||5||4||6||58|
|16.||Jatavious Wilson||Central Arkansas||0||1||1||7||3||24|
|T17.||Bentlee Critcher||Appalachian St.||1||0||0||3||6||17|
|19.||Austin Black||Southeast Missouri State||0||0||1||1||7||12|
|T20.||Javancy Jones||Jackson State||0||0||1||1||1||6|
|T20.||Lawrence Forbes||Morgan State||0||0||0||2||2||6|