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December 31, 2012

Cooper masters art of receiving

TUSCALOOSA | One of the most fundamental teachings for a wide receiver is to catch the football with hands extended and away from the body. Similarly, on lob passes, catching the ball at the highest point possible is on page one of the wide receiver handbook.

Yet catching the ball using one's chest as a backstop remains among one of the hardest habits to break.

Unless you are Amari Cooper.

The Crimson Tide freshman has made some of his most impressive plays of the season catching the ball with hands fully extended, be it reaching over the top of defenders or in front of them to prevent a breakup from behind.

"He's got good size, and he does attack the ball when he goes up for the ball. He's made several catches this year where he's gone up and made some outstanding plays by doing that," University of Alabama football coach Nick Saban said. "Guys that have great ball judgment, obviously, which is very important for receivers and defensive backs, guys that have to play the ball, if they have good ball judgment are going to be able to do that more effectively. If a guy doesn't have great ball judgment, you probably can't teach (it). You might improve it a little bit."

With a game left to play, Cooper already has had one of the most prolific receiving seasons for an Alabama freshman. The Miami native has 53 receptions for 895 yards and nine touchdowns, numbers that rank his 2012 performance among the best receiving seasons in school history.

With 105 receiving yards against Notre Dame in the BCS National Championship Game, Cooper would become just the fifth receiver in school history to reach 1,000 yards in a season.

Junior receiver Kevin Norwood, who also is among Alabama's more aggressive receivers when it comes to catching the ball with extended hands, said it is a point of pride among the entire receiving corps.

"That's thing as a receiving corps we pride ourselves on. If the ball's in the air, it's our ball or it's nobody's ball," Norwood said. "We've done a good job of that all season."

As a freshman, Cooper is not made available for media interviews by team policy.

"Too many guys are too casual in terms of waiting for the ball to come down," Saban added. "They've got more confidence in catching it around their body rather than extending for the ball and catching it with their hands. That's something you always want receivers to do. Amari Cooper's really pretty natural doing that."

HQ: All-American Games: Video interviews, news and notes, and behind the scenes scoop from Orlando and San Antonio

Reach Chase Goodbread at [email protected] or at 205-722-0196.

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