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Late start could impact Illinois high school football recruits

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MACHESNEY PARK (WREX) — Harlem's James Cooper throws one of the prettiest deep balls in the area. The rising senior quarterback says he's talked to several colleges about playing football at the next level, including some Division I programs. But Cooper says his senior year performance could help him land some more scholarship offers.

"This year for recruiting is probably going to be my biggest year, if I would say so," Cooper said. "A lot of schools are waiting for senior year. Now that it's pushed back it's going to be more difficult. But I think some way or another, the colleges are going to figure out how to help us out and I don't even know."

There are a lot of unknowns when it comes to football season. Cooper says he's worked hard this offseason to improve his skillset, and he can't wait to show that on the field, even if it has to come in the spring.

"I would say my release has gotten quicker," he says. "I'm a lot faster than last year so I believe I'll be able to run more this year and not stay in the pocket as much. Extend plays more."

East head coach Gary Griffin understands how critical the senior season is for kids who are trying to get to the next level.

"I think it's really important because guys have become bigger, faster and stronger than last season," Griffin explains. "If coaches are looking at junior film, kids might just be on the borderline. Now that kid is three inches taller and 25 pounds heavier. And a heck of a lot faster and stronger. And you don't get to see that if we don't have a season."

They'll try to get that season in this spring, as Cooper and other seniors in the area take aim at college scholarships. The traditional big signing days for football are in December and February, both before Illinois starts practicing for its season in mid-February.

Derek Bayne

Derek Bayne joined 13 WREX as the sports director in December of 2011. He grew up in the Chicago suburbs and moved back to Illinois after working several years in North Carolina. For any sports story ideas or tips, you can email

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