Cooper back and making a difference for Walnut

By Fred J. Robledo, Staff Writer
Walnut High School football fans are finally reacquainting themselves with quarterback Austin Cooper. As a sophomore, Cooper went through all the growing pains. He was 0-8 as a starter, throwing for just 441 yards with eight interceptions and one touchdown. Just five plays into the 2008 season opener against Diamond Bar, Cooper suffered a severe ankle sprain and missed the rest of the season. Now healthy, the senior is one of the big reasons the Mustangs are off to a 2-0 start and the third-ranked team in the CIF-Southern Section Southeast Division poll.

He’s completed 27 of 45 passes for 416 yards and six touchdowns, and has yet to be picked off.

He threw three touchdown passes in the Mustangs’ 44-20 victory over Diamond Bar, and threw three more on Friday in their 47-17 rout of Garey.

For a team built around running backs Leonard Rhodes and Milan King, Mustangs coach Mike O’Shields has a new toy to work with.

“Austin makes us a complete team on offense,” O’Shields said. “He gives you that added dimension. Not only is he a great passer, but he can run the ball too. I think we’re going to give a lot of teams fits.

“When the pocket collapses, he does a good job of tucking and getting upfield. He did a good job the last two weeks of staying in the pocket. He’s looking to throw first, but if nothing is there, he has the presence of mind to run and get something out of it.”

allows O’Shields to use the talented Rhodes in a variety of ways.

Rhodes rushed for nearly 1,000 yards last season, but the 6-foot-4, 250 pounder is also a dangerous wideout. He had six receptions for 110 yards and two touchdowns against Diamond Bar, and had six receptions for 87 yards and a touchdown against Garey.

With King averaging 87 yards in the backfield, it’s no surprise the Mustangs are averaging more than 40 points a game.

“Leonard is a luxury,” O’Shields said. “We can move him all around every week. He’s a match-up problem and has great hands. Whether he’s in the backfield or the slot, he’s a tough guy to defend.”

The Mustangs’ quick start is not a surprise, either. Most of their seniors started as sophomores.

“We kind of anticipated this could be a good season,” O’Shields said. “This group was 1-9 three years ago, but the experience they gained has been valuable. You can tell they have been looking forward to their senior years for some time.”

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