When Calumet junior CJ Cooper first started playing football, he felt like everyone wanted to be the quarterback.
Except for him.
“It just wasn’t for me,” Cooper said.
Cooper has been a running back from the start at the age of 6. He’s now a 6-foot, 190-pound workhorse for Calumet, which churned out 315 yards rushing Friday night in a 38-22 win over Wheeler.
Cooper was the leading rusher for host Calumet (2-1), producing 137 yards and two touchdowns on 22 carries. Both of Cooper’s TDs came in the fourth quarter.
Calumet pulled away from Wheeler (1-2) after the Bearcats rallied from a 22-0 deficit to tie the game by the end of the third.
Warriors coach Rick Good said Cooper has unique field awareness.
“He has vision that no one else has,” Good said. “He reads the flow of the play as well as anyone I’ve ever coached. Once he gets into that second level, he has a chance to open things up.”
But Cooper is far from the only option in Calumet’s multifaceted offensive attack, which totaled 412 yards against Wheeler. Junior quarterback Mark Flores threw for 97 yards and a TD while rushing for 56 yards.
And then there’s senior running back Phillip Collins, a state-qualifying sprinter in track last spring who finished with 119 yards on six carries.
On the third play of the game, Collins found a hole around right end and then disappeared up the field on an 82-yard TD run.
“That’s my play right there,” Collins said with a wide smile. “We knew we were going to score on that run. But the offensive line did all the hard work. I just had to finish.”
Good said Collins has always possessed straight-ahead speed, but he improved its translation to the football field after adding 15 pounds of muscle in the off season.
“We always knew he could run away from people,” Good said of Collins. “But now he can find seams and then run away. It’s made us more multidimensional than we’ve been in the last few years.”
Wheeler brought its own group effort in the rushing game to Calumet, with freshman running back Trey Gibson and senior quarterback Bryce Catherman combining to rush for 159 yards in fueling a late comeback.
But after Cooper’s first TD run in the fourth quarter, sophomore defensive back Scott Flores made a crucial interception that gave Calumet possession at the Wheeler 28.
Four plays later, Cooper plunged in for a 6-yard TD to seal the win — all part of Good’s plan to use several ball carriers.
“They carried us,” Good said. “They found seams that weren’t there and grinded out those touchdowns. That was our game plan — run it between the tackles and then let Phil run around the edge a little bit.”
Dave Melton is a freelance reporter for the Post-Tribune.