The Arizona Wildcats will be taking a bus ride down to El Paso for Friday night’s game at UTEP in the Sun Bowl. It’s a short trip from Tucson but it’s a special trip for sophomore defensive back Tristan Cooper. Friday’s game will be a homecoming for the Sun City native and it’s a game that he’s had circled on his calendar for a while.
“My coaches and a lot of my teammates have all asked me about it,” Cooper said, “Everybody knows about it and I am excited to go back.”
Cooper was a star safety at El Paso Andress, finishing with 61 tackles and being an all-around playmaker for the Eagles during his senior season and ended up choosing Arizona over offers from Illinois, New Mexico State and UTEP among others.
This game will also be a reunion with other teammates and childhood friends he grew up. UTEP quarterback Ryan Metz and wide receiver Eddie Sinegal were among his teammates at Andress along with receiver Brannon Bullitt, who played at archrival Chapin High School in Northeast El Paso.
He’s embracing the opportunity have those who influenced in life in football watch him play and go up against many lifelong friends. He was expecting at least 20 of those friends and family to be in attendance at the Sun Bowl.
“It means a lot. A lot of the guys that play for UTEP are guys I’ve gone up against and I grew up with,” he said, “It’s really cool to see how all of us have grown up and now we’re competing at this level. I can’t wait to see what happens next.”
He saw significant playing time for the Wildcats last season playing in all but one game last season, making five starts and finishing with 35 total tackles and a forced fumble last year as a freshman. Two games into his second year, he feels like he’s making strides in his own game as he transitions to a linebacker/safety hybrid position.
“I’ve been working a lot more with our defensive coordinator Coach (Marcel) Yates since I was working with just the safeties a lot more last year. I’ve just been working on my footwork and technique and I feel like that area is where I’ve improved the most.”
The Wildcats enter Friday’s game in El Paso as a solid favorite (-17 as of Thursday afternoon). He’ll also be a big part of what the Wildcats do move forward. They open conference play against Utah but ultimately wants to take care of business on the road first.
“We just have to follow what our coaches teach us and not just go off and do our own thing,” he said, “We have to focus on fundamentals and execute our plays and making sure we’re all on the same page in this game.”
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