April 24, 2010
Rome, Ga. - Good things come to those who wait.
That old adage proved true for Shorter College senior fullback A.J. Cooley, who sat through Saturday's final four rounds of the 2010 NFL Draft waiting on a call that never came - that is until 15 minutes after Weber State wide receiver Timothy Toone was announced as the 255th and final pick of the league's annual selection event.
The initial sadness of not seeing his name roll across the ESPN screen was almost immediately replaced with elation for Cooley, who received a call from the Jacksonville Jaguars and an opportunity to sign a free agent contract with the Florida franchise.
"I'm really excited, I'm pumped," said Cooley, who was accompanied by his mom, his girlfriend and several close friends when he received the long awaited phone call from Jaguars' Assistant Director of College Personnel Tim Mingey, running backs coach Earnest Byner and assistant special teams coach Nate Kaczor.
"There was a moment when a bit of pride set in and I was very disappointed at not being drafted, but 15 minutes later I got the call from Jacksonville and it was one of the happiest moments of my life," Cooley added. "[Mingey, Coach Byner and Coach Kaczor] seemed just as excited as I was and I'm looking forward to meeting each of them in person. I am excited and ready to go and earn a spot."
Cooley will report to the Jaguars' Rookie Camp next week and more than likely return with a contract. At that point in time, Cooley will have the opportunity to make the roster and look forward to minicamp and later, training camp.
"He's such a great kid, a great young man with high quality character," said Shorter head football coach Phil Jones, who witnessed Cooley become the program's most prolific rusher and arguably, its best player. "This has been a dream of his for so long and I am so happy for him. This is a great thing for our program, but more importantly, it is a great thing for A.J. and I know that he will represent us well.
"We just have to thank God for his incredible success and all of the things that we have been able to accomplish as a program."
Cooley certainly represented well in his Hawks' career, departing the program as its all-time leading rusher with 4,111 yards and 50 rushing touchdowns.
He holds every Shorter rushing record, averaged six yards per carry over a career that included over 700 totes and became the Hawks' first-ever American Football Coaches Association (AFCA) All-American this past season when he compiled 1,429 yards and 17 scores.
The 6-1, 230-pounder, that boasts the rare package of size, speed, power and agility, will have a chance to prove his skills in his natural position of running back with the Jaguars, something that made Jacksonville an attractive option when scanning potential suitors.
"Jacksonville had said they were interested in me as a running back or kick returner," said Cooley, who returned two kickoffs for touchdowns this season including a 90-yard scamper against eventual Mid-South West Division champion Lambuth - the second longest kickoff return for a score in school history. "That was one of the reasons that I thought of Jacksonville as a possible choice going into the [free agent] process."
Cooley worked out for several NFL franchises in the time between his final collegiate snap and the draft and even had an opportunity to showcase his talent in front of NFL scouts and among some of the nation's best NCAA Division I athletes at the Texas vs. The Nation All-Star Challenge in El Paso, Texas.
Cooley was the only NAIA player selected to play in that game.
"Going into the draft, the last week or so things started to pick up and I had a good feeling about it," Cooley said. "Going into the last day, I thought that everything was in place and I was super excited. I wasn't selected during the actual draft, but everything happens for a reason."
Given Cooley's route out of high school, Saturday's events were even sweeter for the Bowdon, Ga., native. Cooley, who had all but finalized the signing of a Division I scholarship following his prep career, admitted that upon arriving at Shorter, a day like Saturday was somewhat of a long shot.
"I definitely would not have expected this," said Cooley. "Getting a chance to play in the NFL was the last thing on my mind when I first signed with Shorter, but the situation turned out to be a blessing in the making."
Now the anticipation is passed, the wait is over and all there is to do for Cooley is what has come so naturally to him and what he has done so well for so many years - play football.
"My main goal in the next couple months is to make the roster," Cooley said. "I want to be a contributor right away, but I needed someone to give me the opportunity to show what I could do.
"Now, it's time to go to work."