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How a 2007 Grand Forks Central graduate worked his way to the Super Bowl sideline

Jamel Cooper is in his first season as an assistant strength and conditioning coach with the Los Angeles Rams.

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Jamel Cooper, a 2007 Grand Forks Central graduate, is in his first season as an assistant strength and conditioning coach with the Super Bowl-bound Los Angeles Rams.
Submitted photo.
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GRAND FORKS — Jamel Cooper remembers the conditioning drill that capped each Grand Forks Central football team's summer workouts.

Players run across the field on slants at 10-yard increments and hit a tackling dummy at each sideline marker. Eventually, you tackle the final dummy in the end zone.

"As much as it sucked to do it, it's a moment that always will stand out to me," Cooper said. "When you got to that last bag, there was a sense of pride and enjoyment. You went through something everyone had went through. You did it together."

It turns out, that kind of thing is Cooper's profession now. The 32-year-old 2007 Grand Forks Central graduate has quickly climbed the ranks as a strength and conditioning coach and will be on the sidelines in Super Bowl LVI on Feb. 13, as part of the Los Angeles Rams, who will take on the Cincinnati Bengals at SoFi Stadium in California.

When Cooper was in high school, his dad was stationed at Grand Forks Air Force Base as a member of the Air Force. His parents now have civilian jobs in Grand Forks.

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Cooper played running back in the Knights' program from 2004-07. His high school coach was legendary Central coach Mike Berg, who won more than 140 games in 28 years during his career. Berg is a member of the National High School Athletic Coaches Association Hall of Fame.

Cooper and Berg have remained in contact after high school.

"I couldn't have picked a better guy to have as my high school football coach," Cooper said.

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Jamel Cooper, a 2007 Grand Forks Central graduate, is in his first season as an assistant strength and conditioning coach with the Los Angeles Rams.
Submitted photo.

After graduating, Cooper went to college at Georgia Southern. His parents are both Georgia natives.

After college, Cooper started working at a small workout facility in Virginia. He wanted to get back into sports, though.

"I hadn't been involved in sports at that point, and I wanted to get back to strength and conditioning," he said. "That was one of my passions — lifting weights and being in a weight room, so I wanted that team setting."

Cooper started in the college ranks at Middle Tennessee State, where he had to take a paycut to begin his path in college sports.

"I was making like $12,000 a year, so you as you can imagine, it was a little rough on the pockets," Cooper said. "But it was what I wanted to do. I wasn't going to let the money stop me from pursuing that as a career. I'm glad I did. Being there led me to other opportunities."

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After two years at Middle Tennessee State, Cooper went to Wake Forest to work with the Demon Deacons. After two years at Wake Forest, he spent two seasons at Louisville.

"Then I got a phone call from a good friend from Middle Tennessee State, and he said they had a possible opening with the Rams," Cooper said. "Prior to coming to California, I had never been farther west than Texas and North Dakota. I interviewed and went through the process, and I was one of three new hires this year to revamp the strength and conditioning department."

Cooper works exclusively with the linebackers with the Rams.

"It's really just hard work," Cooper said of how he rose the ranks. "I'm willing to do a lot of the things that people might feel they're above. My dad always told me that if you're willing to do things others aren't willing to do, you'll always have a job. That's the mentality he instilled in me. That's poured over into this."

Cooper's ability to communicate and mesh with others comes from his background as what he calls an "Air Force brat."

"You learn to adapt and deal with new people and make new friends because that's what you're always doing," Cooper said. "You have friends here, then you're in a completely new place where you don't know anybody. It's all about adapting to a new environment."

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Jamel Cooper, a 2007 Grand Forks Central graduate, is in his first season as an assistant strength and conditioning coach with the Los Angeles Rams.
Submitted photo.

Cooper describes this season with the Rams as a roller coaster.

"It's a journey you can't describe," he said. "The ride has been amazing."

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This week, Cooper said his focus is to conduct business as usual.

"Right now, the biggest thing is to take advantage of this week," he said. "Get guys' legs underneath them. They had three physical games and one against a very physical 49ers team. Our biggest goal is to get guys recovered, moving and healthy and then next week ramp back up.

"The Super Bowl is bigger than just the next game but we're trying to treat it as the next game. We wanted to try keep this training schedule as normal as possible and keep the routine."

Cooper said his biggest memories of playing for the Knights come from the locker room, spending time with teammates.

"I have a few friends still living in Grand Forks, and it's really not the games but it's the practices and the locker room," Cooper said. "It was about going through those tough summer days."

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Miller has covered sports at the Grand Forks Herald since 2004 and was the state sportswriter of the year in 2019.

His primary beat is UND football but also reports on a variety of UND sports and local preps.

He can be reached at (701) 780-1121, tmiller@gfherald.com or on Twitter at @tommillergf.
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