Venturing into the Cowboys’ locker room on any given day will unearth tons of uniquely interesting treasures. It’s a glimpse into the inner realms of the athletes we see on our television screens day in and day out. You’ll find all kinds of things there: from prized possessions like jewelry and photographs that players wouldn’t dream of departing with, to lucky charms that fuel their superstitious inklings, to fully-brandished chess boards.
Wait a second — chess boards?
That’s right. Chess boards.
It’s not the first thing (or the fifteenth, for that matter) that comes to mind when drawing up visions of the sanctum that is a pro football locker room, but then again, the man who owns said boards is not your prototypical footballer either. The culprit behind the classic brain-game’s presence at the Star is Amari Cooper, who aside from occasionally demanding the ball to be thrown in his direction, is not your classic “diva” star receiver.
In fact, unlike the Randy Moss’s and Chad Ochocinco’s of the world, getting full on vocal soundbites of the guy is about as tough as the hide that coats a reptile’s body.
Cooper is the type of competitor that doesn’t say much on the field, or on the sideline. And then again, when you’ve amassed five seasons of 1,000 receiving yards or more, you don’t really need to use your mouth very often. Consistency is #9’s best attribute, and he continues to perform, and perform, then perform some more as he crafts the résumé of what could very well be a Hall of Fame career.
And interestingly enough, his chess board has played a central role in his ascension to the NFL’s top rung of deep-ball threats.
“Part of playing wide receiver is about being deceptive,” Cooper said in a video on ESPN.com.
“And in chess, you want to be real deceptive. You don’t want to let the person you’re playing against know what you’re doing next. There’s a saying in chess: ‘you have to think three moves ahead.’ So if you’re trying to think three moves ahead of your opponent, and they're trying to think three moves ahead of you, now you want to make it to where you think you know what I’m going to do, but I have something totally different planned.”
If you’ve ever watched him run a route, you’ll see that seamless translation of deception from the board to the football field. Now, having mastered the art of pass-catching at the pro level, Cooper has embarked on teaching a masterclass of his own as he takes the ‘Boys young apprentices under his wing.
The first lesson he’ll drop knowledge on: the mental game that begins long before the scoreboard’s clock begins ticking. For the book of football according to Coop is one that is written with the mind first, then the body. And his young receiver teammates would be wise to listen to him.