Cool Hand Cooper
Cottonwood QB shines and Browne gets Elite 11 finals invite at Oakland regional
SAN PABLO, Calif. -- At the start of the Elite 11 regional at Contra Costa College on Friday, Trent Dilfer stood at the center of some 60 quarterbacks and singled out Cooper Bateman.
Bateman didn't need to be there, Dilfer said. He had already participated in a regional this spring, impressing Dilfer -- head coach at the Elite 11 camps -- enough to earn a recent invite to the July finals in Redondo Beach, Calif.
A senior next fall at Cottonwood High School in Salt Lake City, Bateman committed to Alabama on Wednesday to end a whirlwind spring of recruiting activity. Almost immediately, he came down with a nasty cold. He was miserable Thursday on the flight from Utah to California. He could have stayed home on Friday. But there he was, matching throws on a blustery afternoon with Max Browne, Luke Del Rio and a dozen or so other major-college prospects.
"That's why l love him," Dilfer said later. "I don't think people always get it, but I'm not looking for driving-range quarterbacks. There's a million dudes out there who can hit soft draws from the range. Then they stick the tee in the ground, and it's a wild hook or a shove. It's the same with quarterbacks."
Browne, the USC-committed junior out of Skyline High School in Sammamish, Wash., won MVP honors at the Oakland regional on Friday and took home Dilfer's latest golden ticket to the finals. He's the 11th finalist selected, joining fellow Oakland participants Del Rio, from Valor Christian High School in Highlands Ranch, Colo., and Bateman.
The 6-foot-5, 205-pound Browne connected on all five of his throws in the two-minute drill to win top honors in the final challenge over Bateman, Del Rio, Zack Greenlee (Stockton, Calif./Lincoln), Jihad Vercher (Los Angeles/Salesian), Jared Goff (Kentfield, Calif./Marin Catholic) and Johnny Stanton (Rancho Santa Margarita, Calif./Santa Margarita).
Bateman, No. 61 in the ESPN 150, held his own against the 13th-rated Browne. But after the long week and with his invite to the finals secure, why did Bateman make the trip to the Bay Area?
"Just the chance to come out here and compete," he said. "The big names that were out here, I wanted to go rep for rep, throw for throw, with them. Going into the finals, there's no such thing as being overprepared. I saw this as another practice to get prepared."
No surprise, said Scott Cate, offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach at Cottonwood.
"That guy doesn't get sore," Cate said. "He just keeps chucking it."
Bateman started chucking it for Cottonwood in 2010, his sophomore season, after the team's senior starter failed to receive medical clearance to return from a leg injury for the season opener. Bateman got the call against powerhouse Alta High School of Sandy, Utah. He threw for more than 300 yards and led Cottonwood to victory. And he hasn't rested since.
"He just doesn't get caught up in the noise," said Brett Bateman, Cooper's father.
Such an approach ought to serve the younger Bateman well in college. His choice of Alabama ensures that Bateman will encounter plenty of opportunities to succumb to the noise. That's life in the Southeastern Conference.
"I think he made a perfect choice," Dilfer said. "For Cooper, no stage is too big. No environment is too big."
Bateman visited four SEC schools this spring and looked at Utah, UCLA and Washington. The decisive period came during trips to visit LSU, Alabama, Auburn and Florida, in that order, last month.
The moment he arrived on campus in Tuscaloosa with his mother, Lisa, the quarterback said he felt a connection.
"I had that gut feeling that, aside from playing football there," Bateman said, "I could live there and be comfortable with Tuscaloosa. I didn't know what to picture, going in to Alabama; I thought it would be kind of flat with no trees. But it was gorgeous."
Said his mom: "He wanted that college-town feel, and he wanted a football program with history and tradition."
No doubt, Alabama met the qualifications.
Coach Nick Saban welcomed Bateman's pledge, delivered in a call with Cooper and his father, by stressing to the Batemans the importance of this commitment.
Make sure you mean it, Saban said.
Alabama has experienced trouble recruiting and retaining quarterbacks under Saban since 2007.
No need to worry with Bateman, he said.
"It's something I'm definitely going to stand by," Bateman said.
Bateman said he's thrilled to move past the selection process. So is his coach, who helped deal with dozens of college recruiters to visit Salt Lake City during this spring evaluation period.
"It literally got out of control," Cate said.
In Bateman's mind, calm reigns.
"We're looking for the guy who has that competitive spirit but is fierce," Dilfer said, "that guy who loves the challenge, loves the climb, love the environment.