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Saturday, Nov 22, 2014

Purks: Nothing girly about East Bay coach’s love of flag football

Tribune staff
Published:
RUSKIN -

Michael Cooper's fists are the size of ham hocks. His chest is a barrel. His legs are tree trunks.

He is 6-foot-3, 270 pounds of mostly muscle.

He used to jump out of airplanes as a special forces officer in the Army. He played football for Auburn. He played rugby for years.

And he loves girls flag football.

"I love everything about it," said Cooper on Tuesday, moments after he coached East Bay to a 26-13 District 13 semifinal victory. "I love sports and competition and coaching girls because they respond well to coaching. They're eager to learn."

But really -- and this is not an exaggeration -- Cooper, 45, seems to love "absolutely everything" about East Bay flag football.

He constantly wears a red East Bay visor (that looks too small on his big head) and a red collared shirt with "Coach Cooper" embroidered in white on his barrel chest. He has visors and embroidered shirts made for his assistant coaches.

He carries an ever-present clipboard with myriad plays that he frequently discusses with his players.

At East Bay's entrance for games, he hangs laminated posters for each of the seven years he's coached flag football at East Bay, complete with that year's roster and record. He has posters that boast “Three consecutive district championships.”

For last week's District 13 tournament, he made a 12-page program that featured all six team's photos, rosters, season schedule with game scores, team logos, coaches' all-time records and the names of each school's principal and athletic director. In the front of the program he wrote a welcome paragraph and included a program index. On the entire back page he wrote “A Brief History of Girls' flag football in Florida.”

"I typed it up and printed it (about 100 copies) and I had one of my players fold it and staple it," Cooper said. "It didn't take that long."

And then -- and this must not be understated -- there is the website: ebhsgirlsflagfootball.com.

Every year Cooper has thoroughly maintained the site, which is like the aforementioned 12-page program on steroids. The site features a yearly “Letter to the Parents,” updated East Bay record book, county and state flag football history and so on.

Most importantly, Cooper keeps track of EVERY game score from EVERY Hillsborough county team EVERY year. Cooper has never EVER missed a score.

Not in seven years.

“I look in the paper or have coaches text me their scores and if that doesn't work, I'll find some other way to get it, but I always get it,” Cooper said, chuckling. “It's a lot easier now, because I have all the (county's coaches) pretty well trained.”

So, the question begs: How does a big, burly guy that played football at Auburn (1988-91) and jumped out of airplanes in the Army (1992-2001), end up as a girls flag football coach and history teacher at East Bay high school?

"I started teaching (after leaving the Army with a blown out knee) and helping coach (boys football), and when the girls flag football started (In 2007) they asked me if I'd like to do it," Cooper said. "At first I thought, 'I can't coach girls.' But then I tried it and I loved it right away."

And this from a guy that also said with the calmness of a Buddha: "I did love the violence of football and rugby. I once hit a guy in a Rugby game so hard that he broke his collar bone and separated his shoulder and man was he screaming. I felt bad for him, but it was a clean hit. It was just part of the game. But I did love the hitting."

No hitting in girls flag football.

By the way, East Bay's record under Cooper is 65-24 and his Indians are Hillsborough County's only team to reach the district final in the seven years flag football has been a high school sport.

If you want to confirm it, it's all there on the website. All of it. Every game. Every score.

Everything.

"I can't stop now," Cooper said, grinning. "I have to keep it going!"

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