It was the final play of summer camp in 2019 for defensive lineman and tight end Cooper Brown. A successful fake field goal capped off an inspiring camp for Brown and the Highland Hawks. As Brown began to celebrate, he planted his right leg to chest bump a teammate.
He did not know it at the time, but after jumping and hearing a loud pop, Brown’s season was over before it even began.
Brown felt pain in his knee, but stayed positive, thinking it wasn’t too serious. While being helped to the side, head coach Brock Farrel made the call to his father, Brent.
“When I saw coach Farrel’s name on my phone, my stomach just sunk,” Brent said. “He told me Cooper hurt his knee and heard a pop. He didn’t know how bad it was, but with that information right there, I figured he had torn his ACL.”
Brent’s assumption was correct. After returning home from camp, Cooper was taken to the doctor and had an MRI, confirming he had torn his ACL.
“I started breaking down crying and thinking it was the end of the world,” Brown said. “I was mad and angry and just thought why did this happen to me? Out of anyone, why me?”
Brown was coming off a successful sophomore year, averaging 4.5 sacks and helping the Hawks to an 11-2 record and trip to the 6A semifinals where they nearly knocked off powerhouse Chandler in overtime. With loads of confidence and optimism heading into his junior season, the injury dashed it all for Cooper. However, with help from physical therapist, John Davis, and personal trainer, Clint Ellsworth, Brown began his road to recovery.
Ellsworth recalls Brown having a “rocky and rough” beginning with his training but noticed the hunger return over time for the senior.
“We took it easy on his lower body at first, slowly helping him out so he didn’t reinjure it,” Ellsworth said. “More and more though, we kept going and in the process of all the weight training and that kind of stuff, you could see his attitude getting better.”
While Brown has received praise from his teammates and coaches, even titled by Farrel as, “the heart of this team,” he has yet to receive an offer from a university.
Jokingly, Brown says no university wants a “6-foot-1 ginger,” but he has faith that someone out there wants to see him play after high school. His father also believes there are coaches out there looking for him, using the phrase, “the cream always rises to the top.”
“It’s something my father told me when I used to play high school ball. When things got tough, he said the best players will get noticed sooner or later,” Brent said. “Cooper loves football and he wants to play college football. I’ve told him to work hard, get some film, and eventually somebody out there is going to notice him.”
Four weeks into the season, Brown seems to have taken his father’s advice. In his second game of the season against Desert Vista, Cooper brought down Desert Vista quarterback Jackson Akins twice in a 42-10 blowout. Through four games, he has 16 total tackles, five of which for a loss, and three sacks.
“It felt good. It kind of gave me my confidence back,” Brown said. “I was able to hold my own and get through some guys to pick up a couple of hits. I felt like I got back into the swing of things.”
The journey from the moment Brown tore his ACL to the roar he let out after his first sack in a little under two years has been a long process. But with perseverance and belief from those around him, Brown has built himself back and better than before.
Carrying a 4-1 record, his eye is on the prize in his final year at Highland.
“We’ve taken the season day-by-day, week after week,” said Brown. “I am going to do whatever it takes to help my team and hopefully put us in a position to compete in the Open.”
Zach Larson is a sports journalism major at Arizona State University covering Highland High School.