Former Hillhouse running back Harold Cooper embraces starring role at Rhode Island

Cooper has become a star at Rhode Island, earning preseason All-American honors as a kick returner and being named a team captain. (Photo courtesy: University of Rhode Island Athletics)

(WTNH)–Harold Cooper is a legend at Hillhouse High School.

Not only did the four-time all-conference running back rack up 6,691 rushing yards and 99 touchdowns during his career (both of which rank fourth in Connecticut history), and lead the Academics to two state titles, he’s also looked at as a role model–a guy who came out of a tough neighborhood and made good.

Now a junior at the University of Rhode Island, Cooper has his sights set on college stardom. Last year, as the Rams’ starting running back, he rushed for 746 yards and three touchdowns. This year, he’s a team captain and preseason All-American.

We caught up with Harold last week to talk Hillhouse, URI and his plans for the future. Check it out:

harold cooper 2
Cooper was named a team captain before the season. (Photo courtesy: University of Rhode Island Athletics)

SPORTZEDGE: You’re a junior at URI now. What’s the biggest difference between high school and college ball?

COOPER: The difference is, everybody’s bigger, faster. And then, coming in as a freshman, a lot of guys are smarter than you. You gotta get better in the film room and all that other stuff. [It’s also] way more time consuming. You’ve got a lot of free time in high school.

SE: What do you miss most about New Haven?

COOPER: The atmosphere. The people. Everybody in New Haven shows me a lot of love. In Rhode Island, I don’t know that many people yet because I’m a shy kid still. At home, I’m just comfortable. I can say what I want, do what I want. I can be myself.

SE: Are you being asked to be a leader on this team now?

COOPER: Yeah, I was voted captain. Me and (junior tight end) Charlie McKeeman, a senior linebacker Adam Parker. So yeah, my coaches want me to step up a little bit and be more vocal.

SE: Is that tough for you since you are a shy kid?

COOPER: Yeah, it’s a little tough for me, but I know once I open my mouth, everybody listens, because I don’t talk that much. I’ve been trying to help a lot of the freshmen that came in this year to become better athletes. Better students of the game.

Check out this piece we did with Harold, UConn running back Arkeel Newsome and Syracuse back Ervin Philips back in 2013:

SE: What’s the biggest piece of advice you’d have for a freshman coming in?

COOPER: Just stay focused. Don’t lose track. A lot of things don’t go people’s way when they first come in. They got to work for a spot. I just tell people it’s not going to be as easy as high school, because I know from experience. I came from a winning school, and it’s not gonna be as easy as just walking in and being the star player. You gotta actually work for it. You gotta be patient and let it all come.

SE: What’s your favorite part about URI, as compared to New Haven?

COOPER: It’s just more quiet. More peaceful. There’s a lot of violence in New Haven. I can come here and just feel safe when I’m here. At home, you’re really not that safe…you gotta make sure you’re surrounded by the right people and things like that.

SE: Is that one of the reasons you chose URI?

COOPER: Yeah, there were a lot of reasons why I wanted to get away from home. I didn’t really want to stay around the area that much. But I always like coming back to New Haven and hanging out with family and friends.

SE: Have you been able to stay in touch with the Hillhouse program?

COOPER: Yeah, during the spring I was helping out with the running backs and teaching the receivers how to really run routes. I keep up with it a lot.

SE: Do those guys listen to you?

COOPER: Yeah, all of the kids take my advice. They see me as one of the guys who made it out of New Haven, so a lot of kids want to follow in my footsteps. I try to give them the best advice that I can.

SE: What are your individual goals for this season?

COOPER: Individually, I’m trying to rush for over 1,000 yards, at least 15 touchdowns and probably try to end the season as an All-American.

SE: Do you think that’s within reach for you?

COOPER: Yeah, I believe so. I was a preseason All-American as a kick returner, and I’ve been working on my punt returns so well see how far that takes me.

SE: What are your plans for when you’re done with college football?

COOPER: Well, Plan A is to try to make it to the NFL, but if that doesn’t work, I’ll probably go back to New Haven and try to help the kids around there. I’m a HDF major, human development and family studies. I like working with kids and things like that. And I think that’s what’s going to get me out of my shell, is talking to people.

SE: As far as the NFL, what do you think it’s going to take to be able to make that jump?

COOPER: It’s going to take a lot of hard work, and for me to believe in myself and to have people around me who believe in me. Hopefully, a lot of coaches when that time comes will give me a real shot. A kid from Rhode Island that’s 5-5, I’m not as big as everybody else, so I hope that everybody just believes in me, and see what I can do on the field.

SE: What’s been the best moment of your college career so far?

COOPER: My top moment would have to be against Brown University, I had a big game that year. That took my game to another level. a lot of people got to see my talents and see what I was capable of doing, against a good team. That was one of my breakout games.

SE: You guys play at Kansas (September 3). How big is that game for you, how much are you circling that on your calendar?

COOPER: That’s a big ‘X’ on my calendar right now. That’s all I’m thinking about for the next week is Kansas. I think we have a great opportunity to actually come out on top in that game, because those guys, they aren’t the biggest, they aren’t the fastest guys, so I think we match up very well with those guys.

SE: What’s a realistic goal for Rhode Island this season?

COOPER: I think we can win 6 games this year. If our quarterback play is better and our wide receiving core is better. If those two positions get better, I think we can have a great year.

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