SAN DIEGO – Several first-year head coaches make their debut this week when high school football season kicks off in the San Diego section. That includes former Chargers linebacker and team captain Stephen Cooper, who takes over at Francis Parker High School.
“I always wanted to coach, period,” Cooper said. “Doesn’t matter if it was at the youth level, high school, collegiate or pro. Just to have this opportunity to coach here has been a blessing in disguise and I’m just thankful to be here.”
Cooper takes the help of the program a decade after he played his final NFL game for the Chargers.
As an undrafted linebacker out of the University of Maine, Cooper used a non-stop motor and his football IQ to become a starter in San Diego as well as a three-time team captain. Now at age 42, he says he still likes to get into the game.
“I like to jump in on the scout team on defense and try to give them a look on offense,” he said. “I get in it a lot. I got a little ding on my head from one of my young guys hit me with his helmet, but at the same time, it’s all about having fun. Just getting out there with the kids. Making sure we’re moving fast and physical and disciplined.”
He now sits at the helm of a program with a proud history. The Lancers have won seven CIF section titles and played in one state championship bowl game. This team, which has just over 30 players on the roster, has designs on regaining that success under their new coach.
“This season, I predict a state championship,” senior running back and linebacker Ben Effress said. “I’m always setting my hopes high and expectations high and so state championship is always our goal and that’s my expectation.”
For Cooper, winning isn’t everything. But he believes if he does his job correctly, victories will come as a byproduct of teaching and coaching.
“Making sure these kids understand the game and understand life lessons that you can take away from the game, that’s the biggest thing,” he said. “It’s not about wins and losses. These kids in all the time, off the field in the classroom and in society, and now we want to make sure it transfers over to the football field. It’s our job as coaches to put them in the best position possible to win.”
Cooper and the Lancers face Tri-City Christian Friday night on the road to open the 2021 season.