What makes someone a champion? What makes a person a success? What is that added advantage that allows a person to rise above the expectations of outsiders, but also of themselves? Before being a Super Bowl winner and an All-Pro wide receiver, Cooper Kupp was an underweight, humble high school student with no college recruits knocking on his door.
So how did he go from largely ignored by recruits to the most valuable player of the biggest game in the NFL?
The answer is an endless amount of work, early mornings, and a religious commitment to getting better every day. But there’s more than exercise routines or diet plans that we can learn from Kupp – the ultimate power of perseverance and self-improvement. We spoke to the LA Rams final recipient about his personal journey to greatness to get a glimpse of the mindset of a champion. And while you may not be trying to compete in the NFL, there are plenty of takeaways that you can apply to any of your own passions or endeavors.
Do you remember the first time you realized that football was your life path?
The first time I stepped onto a football field, when I was nine years old, I knew I wanted to be a footballer. That day I put on the football mats for the first time and I told my father that I wanted to do that. I had thrown the ball around with him for years, he was an NFL quarterback, but then it became a reality for me. I was fortunate that the first great coach I worked with was my father. Because he taught me from a quarterback’s perspective, I learned the role the right way.
Did you encounter any setbacks in the beginning of this endeavor?
Growing up, everyone was bigger than me and everyone was faster than me. There came a point where I had to work when no one else was there so I could keep up with my friends and stay with them. Freshman year of high school I was 5’5″ and 115 pounds. I made a concerted effort to gain 15 pounds every low season I had. During those high school days, I laughed all the time. But that didn’t stop me.
How did you approach that process of putting on the muscle?
I went to the weight room after hours and late at night – I knew all the janitors that would let me in. I wore these ankle weights to school every day because that’s what I felt I needed to do to make the jumps and boundaries I needed. I would wear them under my sweatpants when walking around. The work paid off. By the end of high school, I weighed 175 pounds, but I still came from a school that no one had really heard of.
It wasn’t until my second year of college that I felt like I was really getting into my body.
What was it like showing up for your first real spring training and participating in your first OTAs (Organized Team Activities)?
I am always excited about finding ways to improve. The only problem was I have allergies, more specifically eye allergies, and it’s hard to catch a football when you can’t see. I started using Pataday eye drops which helped me through. I know there are many people who suffer from allergies like me.
What kept you moving forward during the more difficult years or situations? And did you keep winning?
The one thing that never changed was my way of thinking and my mindset. That is the most important of all. You can get yourself in the best shape in the world and still fall short. I know because every year we see insanely strong athletes who are capable of physically incredible things that, for whatever reason, ultimately don’t make it in the competition.
There has to be a reason, a difference, and I believe a lot of that is the right mindset.
Proving this mindset is just as important to me as I am to the people around me. That happens at moments like practice, when we’re doing a five-on-five matchups, offense versus defense. I want my coaches to be able to count on me wanting one of those slots every time. I do it for them, but also because I want to solidify it in my own mind. Everyone has that opportunity to go beyond that, and when you seize those opportunities, that’s when you discover what you’re capable of.
Who are the coaches who have helped you get to where you are today and what have they taught you?
There are so many people who have helped me get as far as I am in this sport. This past year has been the first year that I have worked back to back with the same trainer, Erik Jernstrom of EForce Sports. I’ve been lucky enough to work with some great coaches and trainers from whom I’ve pulled bits of what I have in the routine now. One of those coaches was Junior Adams, who I had in college and who is now an offensive coach in the state of Oregon. In terms of skills, he is one of the best out there. I was driven by what he challenged me and the other players. He helped me believe in myself. That year made the biggest difference to me and how I play football to this day. I have been building on that foundation for the past ten years.
During my senior year in college, they had us come up with some sort of competition after every workout. They were always horrible and punitive like how long can you sustain a pull up or some other kind of miserable experience. Those challenges gave me the extra opportunity to take on those experiences at the end of the game. My attention went in during those tests, and when it came time to play a game within a game, I wanted to be the one acting to make it happen.
I didn’t want to get into my head at all about what people might be thinking or what they might expect or who was watching. I learned that I wanted to be the one who made that big game.
Can you tell us a little bit about how you managed to cope during the highs and lows of last season?
I really enjoyed the whole process from last year. I have always tried to be a very process-oriented and process-driven person when it comes to results. I think people forget that we didn’t win a single game in November and suffered a run of three losses. There was a farewell week in the middle of that losing streak and that was a tough time. We lose again after all that, the last game of the regular season goes into the play-offs. That’s when you want to build momentum, not lose it. The whole world noticed at that moment and said that we had lost what we had won until then.
But that wasn’t a reality we would accept, we just kept building as a team. Those results, even if they weren’t what we wanted, didn’t mean we were less of a team. There were things that just didn’t go the way we wanted, and we fell short in certain areas. So the conversation became about how we can get over that and continue to improve as a team at those moments.
We got to the spot where we stepped onto the field at So-Fi and we know who we are. We know we are a better team than we were earlier in the season.
That last drive to victory at the Super Bowl was epic and you took on the challenge big, including catching the winning pass. Could you take in that moment of success between and after the chaos?
Sure, up to a point, but there’s also a part of you that remembers being back on top in two months. So it’s important that those months are spent recovering before we get back on the pitch. Because as happy as we are with this year’s result, we’ll start again next season to win another Super Bowl.
There are many people who pay attention to statistics, whether they are fans, sports professionals or producers of games like Madden NFL 23. How do they fit into your vision of success, if at all?
When it comes to football, I’m not big on numbers, awards or other achievements that aren’t a team effort, by the way. My goal is simply to be a better footballer every year, every month and every day. Be a better person every year, every month and every day. That keeps me sharp and keeps me moving forward. Always.