Analysis

Kupp, Ebukam 1st Big Sky players called in NFL Draft

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Cooper Kupp’s rise is nothing short of profound. And now Kupp will get a chance to prove his mettle at the highest level.

The former partial scholarship player from Yakima, Washington chose Eastern Washington over Idaho State five years ago with literally  no other suitors asking for his services. The 6-foot-2, 209-pound wide receiver sat out his first year in Cheney as a redshirt, a period of time that saw him develop tremendously both physically and mentally.

He opened eyes across college by catching five passes for 119 yards and two touchdowns in his college football debut, EWU’s 49-46 win over No. 25 Oregon State to kick off its 2013 Big Sky Conference championship season.

The performance was not a flash in the pan. Instead, it was a premonition of things to come for a young man who would rise to become one of the greatest wide receivers in college football history. By the time his career in Cheney finished, Kupp had more catches (428), yards (6,464) and touchdowns (73) than any Division I player of all time.

Eastern Washington wide receiver Cooper Kupp i/ by Brooks Nuanez

Eastern Washington wide receiver Cooper Kupp / by Brooks Nuanez

Kupp’s story morphed from one of an underrated up-and-comer who thrived by proving others wrong and playing with a chip on his shoulder to that of a marked man, the alpha dog of the Football Championship Subdivision after he took home the Walter Payton Award as the division top offensive player after his junior year.

Kupp could’ve entered the NFL Draft after the 2015 season, but the bitter taste of a season-ending three-game winning streak that cost EWU a third straight playoff berth would’ve lingered. Instead, Kupp returned for his senior year and did nothing but add to his already impressive legend.

On Friday, the journey reached a new crossroads with tremendous challenges and rich rewards awaiting the third-generation pro football player. Kupp became the second small-school player — Division II Ashland tight end Adam Shaheen went in the second round with the 45th overall pick – to hear his name called in this weekend’s NFL Draft

The Los Angeles Rams picked Kupp with the fifth pick of the third round, the 69th selection overall, making Kupp the first player from the FCS to be taken in this year’s draft. Kupp was the seventh receiver taken in the draft, which saw three receivers get chosen among in the top nine picks in Thursday’s first round.

“We congratulate Cooper Kupp,” Eastern first-year head coach Aaron Best, EWU’s offensive line coach during Kupp’s entire career, said in a school press release. “Everything he’s accomplished he’s earned, and he’s earned the right to play in the NFL. His former staff and teammates, and all the Eastern fans out there, are rooting for him 100 percent. We’re excited for him and know he has better things to come.”

EWU's Samson Ebukam/ by Brooks Nuanez

EWU’s Samson Ebukam/ by Brooks Nuanez

The Rams continued their recent history of drafting FCS players. With the 125th overall selection, Los Angeles selected Eastern Washington defensive end/outside linebacker Samson Ebukam. Kupp’s selection is the highest by a Big Sky player since Montana cornerback Trumaine Johnson was selected by the Rams with the 65th pick of the 2012 draft. Ebukam’s selection makes EWU the second Big Sky team in as many years to have two players selected.

Southern Utah safety Miles Killebrew as a fourth-round selection by the Detroit Lions last spring, going a round before SUU cornerback LeShaun Sims was picked by the Tennessee Titans. It’s the seventh time since 2000 two teammates from the Big Sky were drafted.

EWU is the third Big Sky team in five years to have two players drafted. The 2012 Griz had  two players drafted; UM middle linebacker Caleb McSurdy, the 2011 Big Sky Defensive MVP, was picked in the seventh round of the 2012 draft by the Dallas Cowboys after Johnson was selected by the Rams, who then resided in St. Louis.

“When (Cooper) got picked by them I was like, ‘Yeah, that’s the perfect team,'” said Ebukam, who was drafted as an outside linebacker. “Then I thought to myself, what are the chances I get picked by the same team? And it just happened and I was like, ‘Woah, Eagles really do stick together.’ That’s awesome.”

“(Los Angeles) was my first visit too,” he added of the hectic last month when he impressed scouts with his Pro Day workout at EWU on March 28. “I was just ecstatic. I had a gut feeling that it would be them to take me and I’m just blessed right now. I just can’t wait to get to work.”

The only other duo in EWU history to both be drafted came in 1987 when offensive tackle Ed Simmons was picked in the sixth round by Washington and Craig Richardson was chosen in the 11th round by Kansas City. Simmons went on to play 11 years as a “Hog” for the Redskins, helping them win the 1992 Super Bowl. Montana also had two players drafted in 2010 (safety Shann Schillinger in the sixtb round, wide receiver Marc Mariani in the seventh round) and in 2008, when defensive end Kroy Biermann was a fifth-round pick and running back Lex Hilliard went in the sixth round.

Ebukam’s selection caps one of the most rapid rises in the draft. The 6-foot-2, 240-pounder got the attention of the entire league by running 4.45 seconds in the 40-yard dash, soaring 39 inches in the vertical jump and leaping 10-foot-10 in the broad jump. The three All-Big Sky selections and 2016 FCS All-American finished his career with 44 tackles for loss and 24 sacks.

“I’m not as surprised with Samson’s journey as some people are, because I’ve had to coach the players who have had to try to block him the last few years,” said Best, EWU’s former offensive line coach. “And it hasn’t been fun. I’ve always told him to wreak the same havoc on our Big Sky and non-conference opponents. He’s a very kind gentleman with a big heart, but when he puts the pads on all of the sudden he’s a different animal.”

Cooper Kupp

Cooper Kupp

Kupp becomes a third-generation NFL player with his selection in the draft. Kupp’s father, Craig, was drafted in the fifth round, 135th overall by the New York Giants out of Pacific Lutheran University in the 1990 NFL Draft. Craig’s father, Jake, played at Washington and was drafted in the ninth round (116th overall) by the Dallas Cowboys in the 1964 NFL Draft before going on to a Hall of Fame career with the New Orleans Saints.

Kupp is the second-highest draft pick ever out of EWU, behind only Michael Roos, a second-round selection (41st overall) who played 10 successful seasons as an offensive lineman for the Tennessee Titans. Kupp is the fifth second-day selection (second or third rounds) from the Big Sky since 2004, joining Johnson, Roos, Montana State cornerback Joey Adams (3rd round, 70th in 2004), and Weber State offensive lineman Paul McQuistan (3rd round, 69th in 2006).

Northern Arizona wide receiver Shawn Collins is the last Big Sky player to be selected in the first round. He went 27th overall to the Atlanta Falcons in 1989. Montana State defensive lineman Bill Kollar was the 23rd overall selection by the Cincinnati Bengals in the 1974 draft. Weber State running back Lee White was the 17th pick of the 1968 NFL draft by the New York Jets.

Idaho running back Ray McDonald was the first Big Sky player ever picked in the first round when he went No. 13 overall to the Washington Redskins in 1967. The Vandals had 13 player drafted between 1963 (the first year of the Big Sky) and 1967.

Kupp and Ebukam are among 15 FCS players to hear their names called in this year’s NFL Draft. Tanoh Kpassagnon, a 6-7, 289-pound defensive end out of Villanova, was a second-round pick, 59th overall, by the Kansas City Chiefs. Derek Rivers, a 6-4, 248-pound defensive end who helped Youngstown State beat EWU in the semifinals of the FCS playoffs last season, was the 83 overall selection by the New England Patriots and the second FCS player drafted. Grambling State wide receiver Chad Williams was selected No. 98 overall by the Arizona Cardinals. Lamar cornerback Brandan Langley was selected 101st overall by the Denver Broncos.

Other drafted players with Big Sky Conference ties included Kenny Golladay, a 6-4, 218-pound receiver who spent two years at North Dakota before finishing his career at Northern Illinois and Chad Hansen, a 6-2, 202-pound wide receiver from Cal who played his first two seasons at Idaho State. Golladay was the 96th pick by the Detroit Lions while Hansen was the 145th pick by the New York Jets.

BIG SKY CONFERENCE NFL DRAFT SELECTIONS

  • Cooper Kupp, Eastern Washington, wide receiver – 3rd-round pick, 69th overall by Los Angeles Rams.
  • Samson Ebukam, Eastern Washington, defensive end/outside linebacker – 4th round, 125th overall by Los Angeles Rams.

FCS PLAYERS IN NFL DRAFT

  • Tanoh Kpassagnon, Villanova, defensive end – second round, 59th pick by Kansas City Chiefs.
  • Derek Rivers, Youngstown State, defensive end– third round, 83rd overall by New England Patriots.
  • Chad Williams, Grambling State, wide receiver– third round, 98th overall, by Arizona Cardinals.
  • Brendan Langley, Lamar, cornerback – third round, 101st overall by Denver Broncos.
  • Tarik Cohen, North Carolina A&T, running back – fourth round, 119th overall, by the Chicago Bears.
  • Julie’n Davenport, Bucknell, offensive tackle – fourth round, 130th overall, by Houston Texans.
  • Jamal Agnew, San Diego, cornerback – fifth round, 165th overall, by Detroit Lions.
  • Avery Moss, Youngstown State, defensive end – fifth round, No. 167 overall, by New York Giants.
  • Eric Saubert, Drake, tight end – fifth round, 174th overall, by Atlanta Falcons.
  • De’Angelo Henderson, Coastal Carolina, running back – sixth round, 203rd overall, by Denver Broncos
  • Corey Levin, Chattanooga, offensive line – sixth round, 217th overall, by Tennessee Titans
  • Jylan Ware, Alabama State, offensive line – seventh round, 231st overall by Oakland Raiders.
  • Brad Seaton, Villanova, offensive line – seventh round, 236th overall by Tennessee Titans.

Photos by Brooks Nuanez. All Rights Reserved.

About Colter Nuanez

Colter Nuanez is the co-founder and senior writer for Skyline Sports. After spending six years in the newspaper industry with stops at the Missoulian, the Ellensburg Daily Record and the Bozeman Daily Chronicle, the former Washington Newspaper Association Sportswriter of the Year and University of Montana Journalism School graduate ('09) has cultivated a deep passion for sports journalism during his 12 year career covering the Big Sky Conference. In August of 2014, Colter and brother Brooks merged their passions of writing and art to founded Skyline Sports.

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