CHENEY, Wash. — Eastern Washington alum Cooper Kupp and the Los Angeles Rams are headed to Super Bowl LVI after beating the San Francisco 49ers 20-17 in the NFC Championship game on Sunday.
Kupp was a beast when he was at Eastern Washington University (EWU): he broke records, put up absurd receiving yard numbers game after game, and had plenty of incredible catches to go with it.
Simply put, he was really good. That's translated to his time in the NFL.
That came as no surprise to those who watched him work as hard as he did. For example, Kupp would arrive at EWU practice facilities to watch practice and game films at midnight to prepare and improve.
During a press conference on Monday, Kupp discussed his season with the Rams and how his longtime preparation brought him to this moment. While he said it's an honor to compete for a national title, he said he does not need that validation.
"The honors, the awards, the trophies, they are what they are. But that's never going to be fulfilling for me," he said. "It's great that those things come along because it means I got to play alongside some really great football players, but I don't need the validation from any man on this earth. I don't need validation from any trophies or awards. I've been validated."
Kupp was born in Yakima. He is the oldest of four children in a very athletic family. His grandpa Jake Kupp is a former University of Washington Husky turned pro bowl guard for the New Orleans Saints. His father, Craig Kupp, was a quarterback selected in the fifth round of the 1990 NFL Draft by the New York Giants.
Kupp came on strong as an upperclassman at Davis High School, who in 40 years had only two winning seasons at the time. There, head coach Rick Clark was trying to jumpstart a struggling Pirates team.
Kupp dominated his junior and senior seasons. During those two years, he totaled 87 receptions for 1,814 yards with 23 touchdowns.
Kupp’s dad saw his son put up great numbers, and figured that would grab a lot of attention.
The Kupp family did everything they could to market Cooper and that started with grandpa Jake’s alma mater at the University of Washington. Unfortunately, UW never called him.
Kupp’s last game at Davis High School was a 68-22 playoff loss to Mead High School. He had no college offers waiting for him at the end of that game.
Luckily, EWU head coach Beau Baldwin did not give up on that underclassman.
Kupp arrived in Cheney with no fanfare. No longer the poster boy for a scrappy small-town program, he was back to being just another freshman who had to work for everything he got.
Baldwin said it is really easy and more common sometimes to go into “redshirt mode” where the player kind of takes it easy. It would be the worst thing a hungry player could do and Cooper did just the opposite.
By the time spring football arrived, Kupp was ready to fill some large shoes. He had a 119-yard, two-touchdown coming out party at Oregon Stage, a modest preview of what was to come.
While others could not believe their eyes, Kupp’s freshman season played out just as he envisioned.
Kupp said he would tell himself that he had to get better, and it was an approach that resulted in one dominant season after another.
Baldwin said the team was spoiled in a sense by looking up and seeing his stat line. By the end of Kupp’s junior season, he stood alone as the top player in FCS football with the hardware to prove.
Kupp swept the Athletic’s Director, Walter Payton, and State's Offensive Player of The Year award. He finished his college football career with 6,464 yards on 428 career receptions. The previous record for receptions was 395 and receiving yards was 5,250. Kupp also obliterated the career receiving touchdowns record with 73 receiving touchdowns. The previous record was 58.
He was selected in the third round with the 66th pick by the Rams in 2017. Five years and five impeccable seasons later, his team is headed to Super Bowl LVI.