Portræt: Desmond Cooper
Photo: SBC Photo
This week’s player in focus is a guy, who has accomplished more than most football players ever does. Growing up in Jacksonville, Florida, football has always been a huge part of his life. He played football in high school, went on to Wake Forrest to play D1 football. He later transferred to University of North Carolina Charlotte before he was invited to the Jacksonville Jaguars’ 2015 training camp. He saw playing time in the pre-season games, but was eventually cut from the roster. Many of you, who has been following the National League recently, might know this is Desmond Cooper. Desmond wasn’t done with football and got in touch with the Søllerød Gold Diggers, who he joined in the 2017 season. After a single season, that ended with a loss in the Mermaid Bowl, he left Denmark to join Wroclaw Panthers, Poland. After a chaotic time in Poland, he left Poland before the season ended and rejoined the Gold Diggers this past season. Now Desmond’s plan was to hang up the cleats, and he actually did, just until the right offer was on the table. He lives permanently in Denmark, has built up his own business “DC 9 Fit” and has just recently signed a contract with the Frankfurt Universe, German Football League. Desmond will tell us about NFL life, going from camp to not really having a plan B when he was cut, what impact Denmark has had on his life and why he has chosen build up his own business in Denmark.
You went to the Jaguars’ camp and ended up not making the final roster. What was the difference from you to the guys who made it?
I think the biggest difference from me and the other guys that made it was mindset. My mind was already that I had made it. I had made it to the big show, I had done what I wanted to accomplish by even getting to put the jersey on in preseason. I was in my hometown and got caught up in the hype and feeling like I already made it.
After being cut by the Jaguars, what were you doing with your life?
After I got cut, it was a rough period in my life. I left Jacksonville, moved in with my girlfriend in Tallahassee, Florida for two weeks and then got a call from my dad, that he needed me back home. After two weeks of being home, he passed away. I took over his lawn care business in Jacksonville, Florida and hated every second of it. Did it to pass time and help earn money to help support the family. Then I got contacted by the Calgary Stampeders, moved to Miami and started training again for football because I thought my football days were done.
When did you realize you wanted to go to Europe and play football?
I realized I wanted to go after my second time being cut by a CFL team (Montreal Alouettes). Decided I still had some juice in the tank for the game and wanted to continue to play and have fun. Plus it was like a free vacation.
How did you get in touch with the Gold Diggers?
Casper Reinhardt reached out to me. I was first supposed to sign with them before I went back to Canada. Then CFL offered me a contract so I put it on hold. Then I got cut, hit up Casper and said let’s do it.
Did you have any other offers? What made you commit to the Gold Diggers?
I knew nothing about football in Europe, so the Gold Diggers were the only offer and team that hit me up. So really, it was a no brainer to come to them.
What were you looking for in a team before you eventually signed with the Gold Diggers?
A place to get paid and still play.
After a single season with the Gold Diggers, you decide to move on and move to Poland. What could they offer you in Poland that you made you leave Gold Diggers?
They offered my own apartment shared with my other American teammate, Tim, daily meals, car, higher salary and playing international games. They really just pulled the trigger quickly.
You did not finish the season with the Panthers. What made you leave before the playoffs?
There was a lot of organizational stuff that happened that I just didn’t agree upon. Thought the coach had our best interest, but he really was looking out for himself. A lot of teams think because we come over, they own us.
You committed with the Gold Diggers again for a single season. Why did you go back to the team again and not try a new team?
To be honest, they hit me up, asking if I wanted to come back and again they found me in a stage I thought football was over for me. I thought because leaving Poland, my name would be ruined and no team would take a chance on me. So I was working and living in Miami and got a text asking if I wanted to come back. This time under a way different contract.
How competitive is the Polish League compared to the National League?
The polish league has more athletes, I would say. But again, I think just like the national league. The top 4 teams are the top and no one really touches them.
What did a typical week look like in Poland compared to a typical week in Denmark?
In Poland we had actual football meetings, 3 practices a week and felt the game was taken way more serious.
Now a typical week is cold and rainy but cool I stay busy training teams, individual clients and meetings. The difference this time was I focused on finding my way to stay.
How did you feel the Polish league was more serious?
I felt the difference in just play and how things were handled.
Have you had your own place to live or have you been living with other imports during your time in Denmark and Poland?
In Poland we had our own apartment which was dope and made Tim and I really close. In Denmark you lived with a family or the president. Love my family, I lived with the Volls (teammate and his family).
What has it been like to live with other guys from your team? Has it just been perfect matches?
Tim and I (Poland) were a perfect match. The Volls (Denmark) and I were a perfect match. They made me feel like family. Living with the president (first time with SGD) was cool but you feel on edge because it’s your boss. I’d say if Denmark wants to go to a new level and compete with other big leagues they have to start offering guys their own place so they feel they have somewhere to get away and that’s theirs. It’s always a bit tough coming into someone else place because you feel like you always have to have things in certain order. Plus these guys coming from being on their own in college to now having to abide by rules again.
Have you been through any tough times during your time in Denmark or Poland?
Both places never had real tough times. There’s always the time in the month you are waiting for your check because it’s not like it’s a large amount. There’s always the balance you have to have between going out and buying groceries. Best advice is work while you are home and stack up some checks so you have some spending money. Other than that, there’s always the little comments you get in different countries about being black or whatever.
What expectations did the organizations have to you as an import player (both Gold Diggers and Panthers)?
Gold Diggers expect you to coach, volunteer and play. Nothing super stressful. I feel like they can use the imports a little more. Poland only really expected me to show up at events and play like I was still in the NFL. But with a finger injury and things going on outside football my mind just wasn’t there.
You just recently signed a contract for the up-coming season. You are going to the absolute top league in Europe, German Football League. Do you feel the expectations to you this time are different than expectations in Poland and Denmark?
Ya I feel the expectations are way bigger this time. Especially going to the top league. All eyes are now on me to live up to that “nfl” hype. And we signed a bunch of guys to make this run.
You say American imports can do more than just playing and coaching. What could that be?
Use them to help run camps, do more outside work, but offer them something for it too.
What expectations did you have to organizations?
I really just expected to be taken care of and to have fun wherever I was at. Also help finding a way to stay in the country permanently. I think for clubs that find a guy that wants to be there permanently and does everything you expect plus more from an import, your top concern should be finding a way to help the guy stay and help him figure out visa, living and whatever else.
Do you feel you got the help you needed?
I think I had bits and pieces of help but definitely no help in figuring out how to stay. Felt like most of it was done myself. Mette Voll and Jan Hamburger were my biggest help other than that I was on my own.
You officially hung up your cleats shortly after the semifinal loss to the Razorbacks. What made you reconsider that and sign with Frankfurt Universe?
Honestly coach K was a big factor in my decision. I said the only way I came out was for a top team and Frankfurt was it.
What has been your greatest experience on and off the field during your time in Denmark?
Greatest experience on the field probably all the touchdowns I’ve had on returns. Off the field is starting my own company (DC9).
You are now running your own business, DC 9 Fit. What are you doing with it and what’s your goal?
I’m helping athletes from all sports get proper training and help them become better athletes in general. My goal isn’t just to help athletes in Denmark but all over Europe and really change how training is looked at for athletes here. Hopefully one day run my own gym in Europe and become a household name.
How will it affect DC9 now that you are moving to Germany for about six months?
I think if anything it boosts dc9fit to be able to play against top competition and put the brand out there more. With signing with under armor for all my merchandise to starting my app for programs for all my clients. It just makes everything run smoother and shows the diversity. Plus I always tell me kids to chase and follow their dreams so I felt like a fraud if I didn’t ride this thing out until the wheels fall off.
Lately you have attended some camps in Germany, Sweden, Morocco and you even hosted your own in Denmark. What does it give you and what do you give these young athletes?
For me it gives me the sense that football is heading in the right direction. What I give the athletes is all the knowledge and love I have for the game. I hope every time I attend/host a camp my passion comes out and rubs off on the kids on what it takes to reach the highest level and be the best you can be.
What makes Denmark so special that you have decided to start your own business and start a completely new life here?
Denmark was really the first place that started my European life. In 2017 I said I was going to help the athletes here but ended up leaving. This time I took things into my own hands and found a way to stay and stay true to my word. Denmark is peaceful just cold and soft on the athletes. I see a huge lack in how they approach sports. Here if you go across the border to Sweden they are putting money into sports and giving the kids the best chance to reach their full potential. Here in Denmark it’s that weird rule of feeling equal or whatever it is and to be honest I hate it. It takes the competitive side out of kids. So I’m just here to say ‘F THE STANDARD’ be different and let no one stand in your way of your goals.
If you could change one thing from your time in Europe, what would it be and why?
I’d probably change what happened in Poland. The story there is a bit wild and never like leaving things out there like that and I didn’t play my best football down there. And I’d probably have taken a year in the GFL to see if it’s all the hype it is.
Why should other Americans come to Denmark and play in the National League?
If you come to Denmark be ready to be more than just a player. If you have passion for the game and want to help it expand and change the outlook on it, Denmark is a definite spot that needs it. Like I said before if you don’t mind living with a family or president then for sure come. Plus if you like beautiful women and good beer and fun city 100% come to Denmark.
As a guy who knows what it takes to make to the big league, what advice to you give young hopeful athletes with big dreams?
My best advice is go to the states as early as you can. Seek outside help and training. If you think the 2 times a week you have practice are tough or too much don’t even consider the states. If all you put into it, is just 6 hours a week of training the states may not be the place for you. But if you have the mindset, desire, hunger and passion for it and willing to go the extra to be great, then you need guidance and help to get there. Because you aren’t just competing with kids in Europe for a spot over there, but also other Americans. So if you have the chance to go in High school, go so you can get the true experience and get more exposure against better talent.