Quincy Forte was worth a trip to San Luis Obispo in 2013 to see Eastern Washington play Cal Poly. The Vacaville High graduate started at running back for the Eagles, and former Folsom High star Dano Graves played quarterback for the Mustangs. Neither was the most captivating player in the game, however.
Cooper Kupp, an unheralded freshman with Eastern Washington, stole the show in the Eagles’ 35-22 victory. You have probably heard of him by now. Kupp had eight receptions for 139 yards and two touchdowns that day. He averaged 107 receptions and 1,616 receiving yards in each of his four college seasons. He scored 21 touchdowns as a freshman and had 73 in his career.
Beau Baldwin was the coach at Eastern Washington during Kupp’s time in Cheney and is now in his third year at Cal Poly after three seasons as the offensive coordinator at Cal. Baldwin is not at all surprised by what Kupp is doing these days, but he does admit it is unusual for a player who was only recruited by Eastern Washington and Idaho State to be setting the NFL on fire.
“(Kupp) was a little bit of a late bloomer. He was an underdeveloped kid,” Baldwin explained. “We had been following him since his sophomore year (at Davis High in Yakima, Wash.). He used to come to our football camps. He hadn’t sprouted yet as a junior, but he made a big jump as a senior.”
Kupp has to rank as a big reason why the Los Angeles Rams will face the San Francisco 49ers in the NFC Championship Game. The Rams were 0-2 in the regular season against the 49ers even though the 6-foot-2, 215-pound Kupp had 20 receptions for 240 yards and a touchdown in those two games. Those numbers contributed to Kupp becoming just the fourth player in the Super Bowl era to claim the receiving triple crown by leading the league in receptions with 145, receiving yards with 1,947 and receiving touchdowns with 16.
The other players to wear the receiving triple crown were Jerry Rice (1990), Sterling Sharpe (1992) and Steve Smith Sr. (2005). You have surely heard of them. Rice and Sharpe were first-round draft picks by the 49ers in 1985 and Green Bay Packers in 1988, respectively. Smith and Kupp were both drafted in the third round, Smith by the Carolina Panthers in 2001 and Kupp by the Rams in 2017. Smith was discounted because he is just 5-foot-9. Kupp was sold short because Eastern Washington is not a football factory even though the Eagles were the FCS national champions in 2010.
“We had a good tradition,” Baldwin said of his nine seasons at Eastern Washington. “(Kupp) added to that tradition.”
NFL scouts expressed their doubts about Kupp after he was clocked at 4.6 seconds in the 40-yard dash at the 2017NFL Combine. Bucky Brooks, an NFL analyst, said at the time that Kupp would not amount to anything more than a third receiver with any team. Baldwin went to bat for Kupp and came out swinging.
“I got into arguments with scouts, about him,” Baldwin recalled. “You don’t put him in spikes on a track. These aren’t the Spandex Olympics. Put him in football pads and a helmet and see what he can do.”