The making of Cooper Kupp: Rams receiver credits wife’s inspiration for superstar turn

  • Covered Rams for two years for Los Angeles Times
  • Previously covered the Falcons
  • Has covered the NBA and college football and basketball

LOS ANGELES — Wednesday nights featured dollar beers at Rokko’s Teriyaki.

That meant a hectic evening for the local eatery in the small college town of Cheney, Washington.

But Cooper Kupp, now the Los Angeles Rams’ No. 1 receiver, didn’t frequent the place for drinks.

After football practice, Kupp drove his white Nissan Pathfinder — often with teammates in passenger seats hoping their ride wouldn’t experience one of its infamous breakdowns — across the Eastern Washington campus from the red-turf Roos Field to the restaurant, where a special someone would be expecting him.

Behind the cash register or serving orders in Styrofoam containers, his wife, Anna Kupp, worked her first job.

“I supported us monetarily through college,” Anna said, laughing, almost in disbelief she pulled it off. “I was working full-time so that he didn’t have to worry about that, so that he could focus.”

Cooper’s goals pertained to football, and he discovered after a summer of morning workouts followed by an afternoon landscaping gig that he felt exhausted when the season rolled around.

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Football, along with school, had to be his full-time job. Anna supported and sacrificed, while also attending college, in every way she could.

“Without a doubt, there’s no doubt in my mind, not only would I not be here where I am today without her or accomplishing the things that I would be doing,” Kupp said. “I really believe I may not be in this — I may not be in the NFL if it wasn’t for her and what she has inspired in me and pushed me to do.”

Kupp’s extended family, Anna and Cooper Jamison, one of the couple’s two young sons, cheered on Kupp from a suite at SoFi Stadium as the Rams dominated the Arizona Cardinals in a wild-card round of the playoffs. The Rams face Tom Brady and the No. 2 seed Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the divisional round at Raymond James Stadium on Sunday (3 p.m. ET, NBC).

A third-round pick from an FCS college in 2017, Kupp became a breakout star this season, earning a unanimous All-Pro selection and being named to his first Pro Bowl.

Averaging 893 receiving yards and scoring 24 touchdowns over the previous four seasons as a key playmaker on the Rams’ offense, this season Kupp became the fourth player in NFL history to earn the triple crown as the league leader in receptions (145) receiving yards (1,947) and receiving touchdowns (16).

“He’s been such a special player, not only this year, but really since we drafted him five years ago,” Rams coach Sean McVay said. “Love Cooper Kupp.”

Barely recruited out of Davis High School in Yakima, Washington, Kupp’s two college scholarship offers were from Idaho State and Eastern Washington.

One of four siblings and the son of Craig and Karin, Kupp has some NFL pedigree in his family. His grandfather, Jake Kupp, was a Pro Bowl guard for the New Orleans Saints in the 1970s and his father was a quarterback and fifth-round pick by the New York Giants in 1990. He played briefly for the Phoenix Cardinals and Dallas Cowboys. Both his grandpa and dad passed on knowledge that helped Cooper’s NFL pursuit.

But when asked on a late-October day after practice, as his historic season mounted, what we don’t already know about him, Kupp was quick to respond.

Anna, he said, doesn’t get enough — or really hasn’t received any — credit for his accomplishments.

And she should.

‘She brings the most out of him’

It could be curious, given his track record of dedication, why Kupp was so adamant that he wouldn’t have been able to succeed at the highest level without Anna.

“Anna is his rock,” said Austin Wagner, Kupp’s best friend from high school. “I don’t think there’s a Cooper without what Anna’s done for him. She’s a person that really expects a lot out of the people around her and has kind of a high threshold for excellence …

“Cooper works harder because of that.”

Kupp and then-Anna Croskrey met at a track meet as high school seniors.

“I knew that she was the one that I wanted to marry when we had first met back in high school,” Kupp said. “I told my mom the day I met her, ‘I’m going to marry this girl.'”

They began dating before Anna headed to the SEC, where she competed as a heptathlete at the University of Arkansas. But not long after, they decided the distance and separation was untenable.

Anna enrolled at Eastern Washington, losing nearly two years of course credits that wouldn’t transfer and caused her to double-time it so she could graduate on time.

She and Kupp, both grounded in their faith and family, became inseparable.

“Coop and Anna — they were a team,” said Zach Wimberly, a former Eastern Washington teammate. “No matter what they did, they’re doing it together.”

It only seemed natural that they would get married the summer following her return. No need to wait.

“We just were so aligned in terms of what our goals were and what we wanted to do moving forward and what we wanted to be about as a couple,” Kupp said. “And the belief that football was the community, was the place that I was supposed to be, that we were supposed to be and that’s where God placed us.”

The question of “Why so soon?” often arose — Cooper was 22 and Anna 21 — with skepticism they would miss the rite-of-passage young adults experience in college.

“A lot of people ask, ‘Why did you guys get married so young? Didn’t you feel you were missing out?'” Anna said. “And you’re telling them, ‘No, we actually think the opposite. We feel so lucky to have found someone that we love and cherish so much so early.'”

A piece of paper was taped to Eastern Washington’s locker room white board, a sign-up sheet to attend their June 20, 2015, wedding after their sophomore year of college.

It was one way to pare down the original 800-guest list, given the inclusion of high school and small-town family friends, and a way to ensure they wouldn’t be wasting a lot of money on teammates who, simply put, probably wouldn’t care about a formal invite.

“I was like, ‘OK, I know I’m not going to get any RSVPs, these are college guys,” Anna said, laughing, before saying they did get the guest list down to 400. “We also — my parents, they don’t drink alcohol at all, so we told people, ‘If you want to drink you need to bring your own alcohol.’ We’re not trying to be stingy, but at the same time, my dad’s not gonna pay for that.”

“You’d look out and we’d see some of our teammates with a six pack on the wedding table,” said Wagner, Kupp’s best man. “It was a lot of fun.”

Often, where you’d see Cooper, there’d be Anna. It was the college experience they wanted and created.

“Being able to find time to be together and find meaningful time together, but also getting things done, I’m just so appreciative,” Kupp said, “Appreciative of her and her willingness to do all that.”

Anna was a fixture at pregame movie nights with Kupp and a few of his closest teammates.

“Movie nights were the best,” said teammate Jordan West, one of Kupp’s groomsmen. “We’d watch everything from ‘Finding Nemo’ to ‘Gladiator’ to ‘Miracle.'”

She would work out on the field during offseason 7-on-7 contests and challenge Cooper in the weight room.

“I’d go and do a CrossFit workout with her and she would just run laps around me in these workouts,” Kupp said. “I mean, it is unbelievable.”

She’d watch film with him, usually sitting at receivers coach Nick Edward’s desk, where she’d bring her homework or a book.

“I can’t tell you how many times I’d walk in and Coop would be sitting there watching film and Anna would be there with him as well,” Wimberly said.

And on game days, Anna would put together goodie bags, with cookies and a passage or note written by Cooper, to set at players’ lockers.

“This can’t get me into too much trouble now, but I had a key to the facilities and was able to get into the locker room whenever I wanted to,” Kupp admitted. “So I’d just give her the keys to go into the locker room and she would put them in guys’ lockers and get out of there.”

“If you showed up in your locker and you had cookies from Anna before the game,” Wimberly said, “you were blessed.”

When Kupp suffered an AC sprain in his shoulder and could barely move or lift his arm. Anna was his caretaker, propping him up with pillows and helping him get dressed.

“Coop had that support system with Anna,” West said. “She was always there for him.”

And then there were the finances. A young, married couple in college, Anna and Cooper wanted to prove they could make it on their own without relying on their parents.

“I’m sure if we had asked our parents like, ‘Hey, we really need some help here, they certainly would’ve helped out,” Kupp said. “But as a married couple, we thought we needed to be able to separate and be us and take care of ourselves.”

Their efforts paid off, as Kupp was named a four-time consensus FCS All-American and established 15 FCS records at Eastern Washington.

Making history

The capacity crowd at SoFi Stadium bellowed, “Cooooooop” more times than one could keep track of in the Rams’ season opener.

Kupp beat every defender, then caught a 56-yard pass in stride for a touchdown in an eventual rout of the Chicago Bears that saw him catch seven passes for 108 yards.

In Week 2, Kupp went off again, this time shedding defenders for yards after the catch, finishing with nine receptions for 163 yards and two touchdowns, while giving the Indianapolis Colts’ defense fits.

His connection with Rams first-year quarterback Matthew Stafford appeared flawless.

“He’s one of those guys that’s about as overlooked as anybody in the league,” Stafford said after their second game together. “He’s extremely talented, does everything that we ask him to do, whether it’s blocking for his other guys on the team, whether it be receivers or running backs, running down the field making big plays, catching the ball behind the line of scrimmage and going for big plays.”

With two of Kupp’s previous three seasons cut short due to injuries, and given the nature of the NFL as far as defensive adjustments, it seemed improbable the 6-foot-2, 208-pound receiver would be able to keep up the pace.

But the following week, he caught another nine passes for 96 yards and two touchdowns in a win over this weekend’s opponent, the defending champion Buccaneers, and then a couple weeks later put together a three-game streak with over 100 receiving yards in each contest and five receiving touchdowns.

And he just kept going during the Rams’ 12-5, NFC West-winning season.

“The work ethic, just the way he goes about it, the attention to detail — all those things add up and you see the results,” said Odell Beckham Jr., who joined the Rams 10 games into Kupp’s season-long tear. “Along with being an actual phenomenal talent and football player and athlete and all those things, it’s the attention to detail for me.”

This season, the first playing on a three-year, $47.25 million contract extension, Kupp surpassed 90 receiving yards in all but one game. He leads the NFL in yards after catch with 848 — 78 yards more than the next closest receiver, Deebo Samuel, and ranks second in the league with 237 yards after first contact.

Kupp’s 89 receptions for first down top the NFL, and of his league-high 192 targets this season, he has five drops.

He became the Rams single-season receiving yards leader in Week 17, surpassing Hall of Fame receiver Isaac Bruce’s previous mark of 1,781 yards. And he fell just short of becoming the NFL’s single-season receptions and receiving yards leader.

“I was telling him the other day,” Anna said, as she was overcome with emotion, “I was saying I’m proud of you in all the moments. I’m proud of you when you wake up at two in the morning to go rock our kid, proud of you when you wake up at four in the morning to go watch film and I’m proud of you when you break NFL records.”

Kupp 2.0

Kupp’s close friends from Yakima and Eastern Washington remain in regular contact.

All said, despite his NFL success, fame and contracts, he remains the same person, though they’ve noticed a few upgrades.

Known for his ability to eat, Kupp once downed 12 tacos before a workout in high school and sleepovers at friends meant their moms would be making up to four breakfasts for Kupp — before he became too embarrassed to admit he was still hungry. In college, a $10 Pizza Hut box — pizza, breadsticks and cinnamon sticks — would be dessert to a $5 Subway footlong,

“There were very few times where any food was left with Coop,” West said, chuckling.

These days, Kupp is selective about what he puts into his body — clean eating only, such as farm and ocean to table, after Anna helped him discover the science behind nutrition and the effect it could have on his performance and recovery.

And when his friends see pregame photos from Rams games or catch his postgame news conferences, they know their guy — who used to don baggy Eastern Washington sweats — isn’t dressing himself.

“It’s a funny thing to see because I remember all the weekend of us playing World of Warcraft,” Wagner said. “So it’s funny to see the transformation.”

The style — like the white denim jacket he wore after a win over the Seahawks that had colored tassels hanging down the back — and the swag, such as the green tie-dye matching set that featured smiley faces on it that he rocked in Indy — that’s all Anna.

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Kupp is proud of his success, though he rarely addresses his personal accomplishments and credits his Rams teammates.

When asked what it’s meant to have his family, Anna and their two young boys by his side for all that he’s achieved, Kupp — not typically lost for words — can’t provide an immediate answer.

“It’s hard to put into words,” Kupp said. “I really feel like I’ll probably have to sit down and write it out and put it together. … I just don’t think I can sit here and tell you just off the top of my head and have it do her the justice that she deserves for all this.”

Through tears, Anna said Kupp was deserving of all the recognition.

“More than anyone,” she said, “I see the work. I see his sacrifice, his dedication to his craft, his time. It has been so special to watch.”

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