Alpha Aztec, Marquez Cooper

Marquez Cooper (in red) with Helix' football team. (Credit: Marquez Cooper)

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Marquez Cooper with SDSU RB coach Darian Hagan (center) on his official visit (Credit: Marquez Cooper)

“Be the Alpha” is the guiding phrase for SDSU’s football program. 

Earlier in the offseason, EVT published a detailed article on the genesis and significance of the expression. Succinctly, head coach Sean Lewis and his staff use it to teach their players to be leaders of their own lives. 

From the classroom to their homes and on the field, “Be the Alpha” can be applied anywhere its adherents wish. This past week, RB Marquez Cooper, who transferred to SDSU from Ball State following Spring Camp, provided an illuminating example of what it looks like in practice and how varied its application can be. Given his history with Lewis, seeing this initiative coming from him was unsurprising. 

“I came up with an idea,” Cooper explained to EVT. “I wanted to talk to high school players, give them a little bit of motivation. There’s going to be trainings with me and other high schoolers around the area. I wanted to offer them that. That’s what the motivation was behind it.” 

On Wednesday, Cooper showed up unannounced at Helix High School’s football practice. Cooper wanted to mentor athletes in the community but, with no roots in San Diego did not have the connections to make that happen easily. Undeterred by the obstacles, Cooper took an Uber from SDSU to a nearby high school, hoping to find an opportunity.

The star running back’s car is more than a day’s drive away. The cost of shipping it and the time it would take to drive it to San Diego himself has left him without a vehicle in San Diego. His adventure last week began with a stranger chauffeuring him around Helix, looking for the football fields. 

(Credit: Marquez Cooper)

“I just wanted to give back to the areas around (the city),” Cooper said. “Give kids chances to hear from a college player, a chance that I didn’t have. I just went out there hoping and was lucky to find what I found.”  

When he arrived, Helix’s varsity, JV, and freshmen teams were in the middle of their workouts. Clad in an SDSU hat, a red workout shirt, black shorts, and Nike sandals, Cooper found the first coach he saw and asked to speak with Helix head coach Damaja Jones to ask if he could address the team.

Cooper has only been in San Diego since the beginning of the month, so Jones did not know who he was or his accomplishments but had the openness to investigate further. Fortunately for Cooper’s endeavor, multiple members of Jones’ staff are diehard Aztec fans who recognized the prize of SDSU’s transfer portal class. 

Most notable among them was Helix’s JV offensive coordinator, Chase Osborn. SDSU fans know Osborn as a member of “The Show,” who frequently leads the “I Believe” chant in Viejas Arena. With his lieutenants’ recommendation, Jones allowed Cooper to speak to all three of his teams after practice.

“It’s good because sometimes kids need to hear a different voice,” Jones told EVT.  “When he came out and spoke, it was impromptu. We had no plans for it, but it was good that we broke up, what normally I would say after practice. .. I told them that he’s a busy guy, too, that he’s a college football player trying to do something great this season. He sacrificed his time to come out, so make sure that we appreciate that and what he’s trying to do in the community.”

As his life’s director, Cooper has a plan for his future. With the money he hopes to make from playing in the NFL, he wants to seed a franchise of gyms to train athletes. He envisions locations in his home state of Maryland and in the areas where he played college football. 

More than just forming goals, “Be the Alpha” is about working every day toward the desired outcome. Last Wednesday, Cooper was “+1” closer to his dream by practicing the dry sales pitches needed for his business. 

His success at Helix is opening more doors for him. After working out with SDSU in the mornings, Cooper has been hard at work, investing in a path he might not walk for years. The training sessions he is holding, the first of which was Sunday, are giving him experience for his career after football. Any local athletes interested in future group or private sessions can send him a message on X or Instagram.  

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“I’m getting a lot of new following from talking to the players,” Cooper explained. “Letting them know I’m the active rushing leader. They are very intrigued when I tell them that. Then, I go and tell them where I’ve come from, (and) not to be discouraged because I’m five-seven myself. I tell them about my recruitment journey if they’re struggling with that. I tell them how to get recruited. I tell them I never had under a 3.0 (GPA). I tell them they need to be a good person because (colleges) are going to ask their high school coaches what type of player they are and their personality. I motivate them to be a good player and a good person.” 

Marquez Cooper talking at La Jolla High School (credit: Marquez Cooper)

After Helix posted a photo with Cooper following Wednesday’s practice, La Jolla High School head coach Tyler Roach followed SDSU’s running back on social media and invited him to address his students. Roach wanted La Jolla RB Aiden Mcgill (5-foot-9, 180 pounds), in particular, to hear from Cooper. On Thursday, the Aztec senior delivered his positive message in La Jolla. 

Cooper likely won’t have to canvas area schools anymore. He’s already networked with San Diego and Lincoln High Schools and has talks scheduled with their teams this week. 

“It gave kids hope that aren’t necessarily the prototypical, ideal football player that’s going to play major college football,” Jones explained. “We are going to have some that’s going to play DI at the highest level, some DII, but he gave the kids, ‘Hey, you can play college football if you work hard, do your part, and listen to coaches.’ I think that was the biggest thing that the kids got from it.”

Among the prep players who heard Cooper was Helix’s RB Pablo Jackson. Like Cooper, Jackson is 5-foot-7, plays running back, and is at a new school for his senior season. 

“Most definitely,” Jackson told EVT when asked if Cooper’s words inspired him. “There’s always doubts. Everyone’s got their doubts. I’m on the shorter side, just like Marquez, so it’s harder to push through it. … it’s always an extra boost of confidence once I see a shorter guy like Duece Vaughn, Darren Sproles, or even Marquez come and show light in my process.” 

Jackson is a terrific running back. He started for Open Division champion Granite Hills last year and transferred to Helix this offseason. Jackson said he plans to work out Cooper and knows if he excels in them, it can only help him in the recruiting process. 

Lewis has been instilling this entrepreneurial mindset in Cooper since the latter was Jackson’s age. Cooper enrolled early as a 17-year-old at Kent State in 2020. In living what he’s been taught four years later in San Diego, Cooper has illuminated what Lewis is all about, but he also dispelled some commonplaces about transfers. 

With young Aztecs leaving and older players transferring in, many are wary of the free-agent era of college football taking away the relationship SDSU athletes form with the fanbase. Cooper showed that the right people can still make their mark in the community if they are willing. 

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