Location, relationships led four-star Omar Cooper Jr. to pick IU

Omar Cooper Jr. and his family were struck by just how similar the recruiting pitches for Indiana and West Virginia were.

Neal Brown at West Virginia and Tom Allen at Indiana both emphasized development, and how they would spend time working on Cooper the player and the person. They both considered Cooper a versatile receiver and one they could do a lot with, and the Coopers liked the atmosphere in both Morgantown and Bloomington. Both Allen and Brown put in time personally to work on recruiting Cooper and made clear to him that he was wanted.

“It was oddly very similar as far as the set up of how they showed us how they would build the athlete,” said Omar Cooper Sr., Omar’s father and wide receivers coach at Lawrence North High School. “As far as in the classroom, the structured system they have around academics, strength coach, nutritionist. All of that was oddly very similar, so we liked that about both schools.”

But with everything else being equal, West Virginia was at the disadvantage of not being the school where Cooper’s quarterback and friend Donaven McCulley was going, not being the school where his friend C.J. Gunn would be playing basketball, and not being just over an hour away from home.

Those factors effectively worked as tiebreakers for Indiana, to whom Cooper formally committed with a Twitter post on Wednesday. According to the 247Sports.com composite rankings, the 6-foot-1, 185-pound Cooper is a four-star recruit, the No. 214 overall player in the Class of 2022, the No. 30 wide receiver nationally and the No. 5 player in the state of Indiana.

According to 247Sports, Cooper is the fifth-highest rated Indiana recruit since the service in the recruiting service era, which goes back to 2000. Two of the four higher-rated players are in the Class of 2022 — safety Dasan McCullough and cornerback Trevell Mullen. The other two are former defensive lineman Stephen Williams, who arrived in the 2000 class, and running back Sampson James, who joined the program in the 2019 class.

“The thing that really stood out the most was the relationship he built with the coaching staff and how much they showed that they wanted him,” Cooper Sr. said. “… The distance was obviously a factor. As parents, we want to come to as many games as possible. It didn’t hurt that he would know some people at IU, that he would know Donaven McCulley and C.J. Gunn. That didn’t hurt either. I would say the tiebreaker would be the relationship with coach Allen and the distance.”

Cooper Sr. said the Coopers were also specifically pleased with how Indiana sees Cooper fitting in their offense — which is to say anywhere that a wide receiver can play.

“I asked questions that were specific and Omar asked questions that were specific of where they saw him playing and how they saw themselves using him,” Cooper Sr. said. “IU answered that question the best. One thing that we wanted to hear and one thing we feel about him is that he’s versatile. He can play outside. He can play inside. You can put him in motion and move him all around. Some schools said he could play the slot. Some said they seeing him play wideout. IU was the one school that said, ‘If he’s who we believe he is, there’s no limit. He can play anywhere.’ That’s the answer that we liked and that we wanted to hear.”

Cooper Sr. has insight as to what Cooper Jr. is capable of because he’s his position coach now and has, with an interruption in middle school, coached him since second grade. Cooper Sr. was a star football and basketball player at Fort Wayne South Side and spent three years playing basketball at Louisiana Tech.

For most of Cooper Jr.’s football career, he was a quarterback, but when he got to varsity as a sophomore in 2019, McCulley was already an established four-star prospect and the starter behind center. Cooper had to switch positions, and he shined. That year, he caught 53 passes for 1,024 yards and 11 touchdowns. Last season, he caught 38 passes for 1,101 yards and 14 touchdowns before a torn ACL ended his campaign.

“I’ve always said he’s one of the most athletic kids I’ve ever seen coming up,” Cooper Sr. said. “Even when he was like 9, 10 years old. I’m realistic about my kids. I’m never going to give them something they haven’t earned and I’m going to tell the truth, but I’ve never seen a kid as fast who can jump as high, who is as quick, all the combination. And he’s a really fast learner.”