Five years ago, Kenny Cooper and Jack DeFoor were playing Friday night football in Gordon County. Both played on the offensive line, DeFoor for Calhoun and Cooper for Sonoraville. The two schools themselves are considered rivals, even though most people in the community, especially the players on the gridiron, have a strong degree of familiarity with one another.
“It was always important to try and get that win because me and Kenny played baseball together when we were little,” DeFoor said. “We knew each other so you don’t want to lose to people that you know and your friends. You want that one bad.”
“When you grow up with somebody, ... the rivalry increases,” Cooper said. “The win is very important.”
Upon graduating from their respective schools, Kenny Cooper accepted an offer to play college football at Georgia Tech, becoming the first Sonoraville Phoenix to sign with a Division I school. DeFoor committed to Ole Miss, redshirting his freshman year before appearing in a handful of games for the Rebels. Then, DeFoor transferred back home to the state of Georgia and joined the Yellow Jackets’ football program. New team, new coaches, new locale, but a familiar face in Cooper on the O-Line.
“He was the only person I knew when I transferred here, so like he’s helped me out (in getting) used to the schedule and how school is here,” DeFoor said. “Now, we’re playing beside each other on the o-line, but we have really good chemistry and we communicate well.”
Along the offensive line, Cooper has played at center. Recently, DeFoor has made the move to guard from tackle, putting the two side by side.
“We grew up together, we played together, we’ve known each other for a long time,” Cooper said. “Having somebody from the same town and everything is pretty cool. Having him now move to guard beside me, it actually helps with chemistry.”
Georgia Tech has been going through transition and now is trying to rebuild — and rebrand — a historic football program hungry to be consistent contenders once again. The Yellow Jackets brought in Geoff Collins as head coach, as the 48-year-old attempts to turn GT into an ACC power.
DeFoor said Collins’ positive energy is likely the biggest component you will hear the head coach brings to the table.
“The little details,” Cooper added. “(They are) very important to him. Everything we do, walk into class, in the building, everything is important.”
Cooper and DeFoor’s offensive line coach, Brent Key, joined the Georgia Tech football staff shortly after Geoff Collins was hired as head coach. Key played football for the Yellow Jackets in college, and has nearly two decades of coaching experience.
His most recent stint came under the tutelage of Nick Saban’s Alabama Crimson Tide, where he coached offensive line.
“He came right after (Alabama) played in the National Championship and he’s just been honest about doing the extra,” DeFoor said. “He’s a good coach and he pushes us to our limits.”
“(He’s) really positive,” Cooper said on Key. “The energy he brings and when he comes out there, he emphasizes all of us together. Each play, we have to do it for each other.”
DeFoor said the biggest thing he’s learned about football since graduating from high school is taking it one day at a time.
“Basically stack days and try to get better each day,” DeFoor said.
Cooper said his biggest lesson learned from high school to college is doing extra work, not just in football, but in academics as well.
Despite GT’s season not going as planned (2-5, 1-3 ACC), DeFoor and Cooper noted a different team chemistry with Collins at the helm and that the 2019 season is laying the foundation.
“We’re trying to build the foundation for the future,” DeFoor said. “We want to send the seniors out right, but we’re just laying the foundation. This is just the beginning.”
“The energy from players when they come in the building,” Cooper said. “You can see a different purpose, a different mindset. When we workout (and) practice, everybody is upbeat.”
Cooper and DeFoor hail from a relatively small community, but they both have multiple years of Division I college football experience. Today, both represent Gordon County on Tech’s roster in the big city.
“I have a lot of pride in it,” DeFoor said. “I feel like it’s really cool to represent Calhoun at this level and I’m just trying to make everybody proud.”
“If you have your dream, you can achieve it if you work hard enough,” Cooper said. “If that’s what you want to do, you can go and get it.”
Last Saturday, the Yellow Jackets came back from behind, twice, to knock off the Miami Hurricanes 28-21 in overtime at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens. It was GT’s first ACC win of 2019.
Georgia Tech is in the midst of its second bye week of the season. The Yellow Jackets next take Grant Field at Bobby Dodd Stadium on Saturday, Nov. 2 for the homecoming game against the Pittsburgh Panthers.