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— Casey Cooper, the senior center fielder for the Conway Wampus Cats, was born to play the game of baseball.

His father, Jamie Cooper, was a member of the San Francisco Giants organization for seven years. While he was mostly used in the farm club, he did make his way on to more than one major league roster, at the same position his son now plays for Conway.

The number Cooper uses is even a bit of an homage to his father. Cooper wears 21 on the baseball field, which is the same number his father used in college. However, Cooper admits he wears 21 because it is the inverse of his football jersey number, which was unavailable in baseball.

In a day when more students are trying to specialize in just one sport, Cooper excels at two. On the football field, he is the team's quarterback and helped lead the Wampus Cats to the state playoffs this year. While the pressure of being on two teams might get to some players, Cooper takes it in stride.

"It's pretty stressful at times," Cooper said. "It definitely takes a certain kind ofperson to do it."

Although he guided his football team to the state playoffs, he has much higher aspirations for his baseball team. During the summer, his American Legion team won the state championship and that team is made up of basically the same players as his high school team.

"I want to win state and go undefeated," Cooper said. "I expect to win every game."

After high school, Cooper will play baseball at Northeast Texas Community College in Mount Pleasant. He decided to go the junior college route because he believes that he will be able to play earlier and develop his game more. And, if the opportunity presents itself, he will take a chance to follow in his father's footsteps and enter the professional ranks.

If he is unable to pursue a career in professional baseball, Cooper would like to be around baseball, particularly as a coach. He would bring the same fire and attitude to the coaching profession as he does with his baseball career, and he knows the life lessons he would instill in young players if he were to become a coach.

"Always stay positive," Cooper said. "Even in tough times, you have to stay positive."

Even though Cooper is a twosport athlete, he is not what you would call a typical "jock." He carries a 3.1 GPA and takes offense to the "dumb jock" persona with which many athletes are tagged.

"Even though I am an athlete, there is more to me than athletics," Cooper said.

He is a big supporter of his little sister, Hannah, who plays volleyball. He is a member of Fellowship of Christian Athletes and Antioch Baptist Church, and he values his time with his family.

His father may have been a professional baseball player in Cooper's youth, but he did not force his son into sports. Cooper said he grew up as a "normal kid," beginning with tee-ball at age 5, then progressing. Whilehaving a professional baseball player as a father can be a perk, Cooper does not believe it to be an advantage.

"He gives me advice on the game around the dinner table," Cooper said. "It's nice to get pointers here and there."

Whether or not he will be able to follow in his father's footsteps, or make some larger ones of his own is yet to be determined, but Cooper is not really thinking about that now, he is more interested in this season with Conway. He believes the pieces are in place for a great run - from the "great, knowledgeable coaches" to the senior class that he expects to "take charge this year."

"We're going to play hard every game," Cooper said. "We play as a team and we will win as a team."

River Valley Ozark, Pages 148 on 03/04/2007

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