Dec. 17, 2009
Rome, Ga. - As if there existed any doubt at all, Shorter College senior fullback A.J. Cooley has firmly established his position as the greatest player to ever don the Hawk royal blue and white.
On Thursday, Dec. 17, Cooley was named to the 2009 American Football Coaches' Association NAIA All-America Team as voted upon by coaches from each of the AFCA's nine districts.
Cooley becomes the first Shorter Hawk to garner AFCA All-America honors - an emphatic exclamation point on a career that has set the standard for generations to come.
"This is a wonderful individual honor for A.J., but it is also an honor for our program," said Shorter head coach Phil Jones, who has guided the Hawks to four straight winning seasons in just five overall as a program. "This award brings more validity to our program. I am glad that it happened to a young man who has such great character and is also such a great student.
"A.J. is a great example for what this award is all about."
The Bowdon, Ga., native finished his career as Shorter's all-time leading rusher with 4,111 yards and as the holder of every major Hawks' rushing record.
He carried a school record 743 times over his four-year tenure, scoring 50 rushing touchdowns and averaging 5.5 yards per carry - both Shorter records.
The 6-foot-1, 230-pounder tallied single-season records of 1,558 yards and 21 rushing touchdowns in 2008 before nearly matching those numbers in this, his senior season.
After being named a Sporting News Preseason All-American prior to the 2009 season, Cooley backed up his accolade, rolling up 1,429 yards and 17 ground scores while picking up 6.3 yards per rush and averaging 129.9 yards per outing - all despite defenses designed solely to curb his effectiveness.
"Teams were definitely keying on him this year," said Jones. "We saw defenses early in his career that would scrape linebackers to the outside for our pitches that were now holding those players inside to key on A.J.
A.J. was never discouraged and never complained if he got the ball less. All he wanted to do was help the team win any way he could and thankfully we were able to do some things later on in the season to make sure he got the ball."
Cooley crossed the goal line a total of 20 times with the help of one receiving score and a pair of kick off return TDs.
Cooley ranked second in the NAIA in total rushing for the second straight year, finished third in the country in scoring and fourth in rushing yards per game.
He eclipsed the 200-yard mark three times in 2009, including a school record 255-yard, four-touchdown effort in a win over Belhaven College that earned him NAIA National Player of the Week honors for the second time in his career.
Cooley was named the Mid-South Western Division Offensive Player of the Year for the second consecutive season, joining classmate Logan Lollis as Shorter's only two-time recipients of the league Player of the Year award.
"The position that A.J. played is physically and mentally difficult," Jones said. "He grew into it and got better and better every year. He may have gotten better with each game he played, which is a real tribute to him."
The AFCA has selected an All-America team every year since 1945 and its team is the only such team chosen exclusively by the coaches themselves.
The AFCA's NAIA All-America Selection Committee is made up of three head coaches from each of the AFCA's nine districts, one of whom serves as the district chairman along with another head coach who serves as the chairman of the selection committee.
The coaches in each district are responsible for ranking the top players in their respective districts prior to a meeting between the district chairmen and the committee chairman on which the team is chosen.