The Texans signed rookie offensive guard Sam Cooper to their practice squad, according to a league source not authorized to speak publicly.
An undrafted free agent from Merrimack College who was previously with the Baltimore Ravens, Cooper has worked out previously for the Texans, Jacksonville Jaguars, New England Patriots and New York Jets.
Tutored before the draft by former Patriots offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia, Cooper has dedicated his career to his late brother, Hassan, and made him a promise on his deathbed after he was diagnosed with terminal cancer that he would become a professional athlete one day.
“It was such a sad, horrible time because his body was literally being eaten away,” Cooper said in an interview days prior to the draft. “My brother loved sports so much. I told him I would be a professional athlete one day. I had no idea what sport it would be, or that I would become this big football player. Ever since the day he died, I’ve been determined to fulfill our dream.
“It’s like we’re still doing it together as one, as a family. I’m excited because this is something I’ve been wishing for and praying for ever since I told my brother this is what was going to happen. It’s a blessing to know this is going to come to fruition.”
Born in Nigeria one year after his family moved from Liberia to escape a civil war, Cooper and his siblings moved to Pennsylvania later with their mother while his father attended to his aviation business in Africa. Cooper's father was murdered three years after Hassan died. The crime was never solved.
“When my dad died, that was the most horrible time of my life,” Cooper said. “My dad was really successful. He was making so much money in the pilot business and grudges were built from jealous people. It was a really dark time and it made me so angry. I still see red sometimes thinking about it. The last time I spoke with him before he was killed, it was very similar to what I told my brother when he died. We were eating rice and African soup and my dad asked me would I take over the family business, the aviation business. And I told him what I told my brother, that I’m going to be a professional athlete.
“My faith is huge. I’ve always said, ‘The Lord is my shepherd.’ Everything I do is because of him. I always say, ‘Don’t ask for an easy life.’ I’m not sad. I’m not ashamed. I’m thankful. Everything has been a blessing. Everything I’ve been through built calluses into my brain to make me stronger for now and for the future for when I have kids. God plays a huge role. Dark times have given me even more motivation to achieve my dreams and fulfill my promises to my family.”
Cooper played in the Hula Bowl and Tropical Bowl all-star games before being selected for the East-West Shrine all-star game and the NFLPA Collegiate Bowl, which were cancelled.
“We’re incredibly proud of Sam and everything he’s accomplished,” Merrimack coach Dan Curran said of Cooper, an All-Northeast Conference selection. “Sam is everything you could want a player to be in terms of toughness, strength and athleticism for a guy his size. He is very conscientious about every detail of his blocking technique. He will text youat 10 o’clockat night to ask questions about plays and how to get better.
“Bottom line: Sam does everything the right way and is always working to maximize his potential. Whatever NFL team he goes to, they’re getting someone with a passion for football with the highest character. There’s no limit on what Sam is capable of doing.”
At 6-foot-2, 308 pounds, Cooper has outstanding strength, flexibility and mobility. His game film displays an aggressive, technically sound blocker with a nasty streak who consistently knocks people down.
A transfer from Maine who was an All-Catholic League selection and National Honor Society student at Conwell-Egan Catholic in Pennsylvania, Cooper has bench pressed 225 pounds 35 times and run the 40-yard dash in 5.1 seconds with a 1.69 10-yard split. The team captain and dean’s list student’s maximum bench press is 515 pounds and his maximum squat is 650 pounds.
At the Hula Bowl, he drew praise from NFL Network analyst and former Philadelphia Eagles offensive lineman Brian Baldinger. Cooper was honored with the annual Joe Roth Award.
“I was around a lot of very good players, but I wasn’t going to get my butt kicked,” Cooper said. “I came in there a very serious, focused player. I came there to handle business. I wasn’t there for sightseeing. I lost one one-on-one rep the whole week. That was my coming-out party that put me on the map.”