Riverdale senior running back Ti'Keem Cooper has paced the Raiders to a 3-0 start and their first top 10 ranking since 2005.
Don’t let the size fool you.
If Riverdale running back Ti’Keem Cooper could give opposing tacklers a warning, that is what it would be.
With 165 pounds stretched over his 5-foot-6 frame, Cooper is far from an intimidating figure on the football field.
“I look small, but I’m strong too,” Cooper said. “I try to use my speed and quickness, but I’m better than just alright between the tackles too.”
Cooper has shown his versatility in the Raiders’ first three games, not only making his presence felt in Riverdale’s backfield, but also on special teams.
The diminutive tailback has taken two kickoffs back for scores already this season, including a 92-yarder last Friday in Riverdale’s 28-14 triumph at then-10th ranked Grady.
But it was his 88-yard runback on the game’s opening kickoff against Drew that not only set the pace for the Raiders’ 21-14 victory, but also the season.
“Ti’Keem’s opening one against Drew set the whole tone for that game,” junior quarterback Greg Taylor said. “That just gets us on amp. We get excited with plays like that.”
It’s been those kinds of plays that have helped Riverdale to its first 3-0 start since its last playoff team in 2005. And it is those types of plays Cooper said he always knew he could make, even when he wasn’t making them consistently.
Cooper said all of that changed when head coach Olten Downs came around.
“Coach Downs, he’s one of my favorite coaches I’ve ever had in football,” Cooper said. “He preaches the small things. He gets more out of us, and he makes us understand the game more.”
Downs said he knew he had a good running back situation coming into the season, but Cooper — along with fellow senior tailback Kamhad Magwood — make up a dynamic duo.
At 6-foot, 215 pounds, Magwood packs a big punch.
The pair bills themselves as “Thunder and Lightening” as they tagteam to wear on opposing defenses.
“Cooper has been great this season,” Downs said. “And with Kamhad back there with him, it gives us two different kinds of backs.”
Magwood said that he and Cooper can make things ominous for opposing defenses.
Indeed, the two combined for 147 rushing yards against Grady, and the Raiders — who cracked the Associated Press Top 10 poll for the first time in seven years at No. 8 — figure they will need both elements to be at their best in order to leave Dutchtown unscathed.
It’ll be a matchup of strength-on-strength when the two teams meet, as the Bulldogs are averaging a shade under 30 points per game, while the Riverdale defense, led by linebacker Tony Wyche, has surrendered just nine points a game in this young season.
And although defense and special teams seem to be the Raiders’ calling card so far, Cooper says he and his offense still expect to make big plays to help the Raiders reach their big goals.
“If we stay focused, be humble and go out and execute like we have, we should be fine,” he said. “Our biggest difference from last year is believing and finishing. Our whole focus since summer has been winning a state championship. Nothing more, nothing less.”