By Gabriel Stovall
TYRONE, Ga. — What a difference a year makes.
And on what Jonesboro football is calling “Sandy Creek week,” the exact magnitude of difference can be easily measured by the smile on Zerrick Cooper’s face.
Cooper was lighthearted and jovial as he threw passes to senior cornerback Jordan Griffin after the Cardinals’ Thursday walk-through before tonight’s 7:30 p.m. kickoff against the No. 4 Sandy Creek Patriots.
Last year at this time, the much ballyhooed contest between Jonesboro and the perennial power from Fayette County was put on pause — at least for Cooper — as all he could do was try to help his team out cerebrally and emotionally.
Cooper was sidelined last year with a knee injury he sustained about a month before the 2014 campaign kicked off. So there will be none of those “just another game” cliches from the Clemson quarterback recruit as he talks about the magnitude of this year’s rematch with the Patriots.
“Not being able to play last year definitely magnifies (this game) for me a lot,” Cooper said. “The team struggled last year without me, as you know. But coming back, I feel like I can help the team put points on the board and come out with a ‘W.'”
Sandy Creek blitzed the Cooper-less Cardinals last year at Tara Stadium to the tune of 35-6. It was just Jonesboro’s second game, and, as Sandy Creek coach Chip Walker said, Jonesboro was a team still trying to find itself without their best player.
Walker said he expects to see a much different team on the field this year.
“When you’ve got a guy on your team like Zerrick Cooper, a guy who’s got D-1 capability and going to D-1 college, one guy can definitely make a world of difference on your team,” Walker said. “He’s a great player, and can do a lot to move their offense and put some points on the board. He’ll present a good challenge to us.”
The respect is mutual, as Cooper said he expects Sandy Creek’s defense to present a supreme test for an offense that racked up 369 yards of total offense last week in a 31-6 win over cross-town rival Mount Zion. But Cooper and company won’t be doing any last minute cramming for this test.
“We have a ton of confidence about being able to win up there, actually,” Cooper said. “We’ve been preparing for this game since January. I’m looking forward to it actually. I can say that it will be (the program’s biggest win). If we win, this really puts Jonesboro on the map and makes us become a team that people are gonna want to come out and see.”
ZERRICK COOPER, Jonesboro (Sr.)
Last Week vs. Mount Zion: 10 of 19 passing, 165 yards and 4 touchdowns in a 31-6 win.
BRYANT WALKER, Sandy Creek (Soph.)
Last Week vs. Creekview: 12 of 16 passing, 135 yards and 2 touchdowns in a 41-0 win.