The pain of unthinkable tragedy could have consumed Sam Cooper.
The agony of his father’s murder, and losing his brother to cancer two years earlier, could have crushed the Merrimack College football star.
Instead, it forged an unbreakable drive within Cooper, that has him one step from achieving his National Football League dream, and fulfilling the promise he made to the loved ones taken from him.
“My brother Hassan asked to speak to me on his deathbed,” remembered Cooper, who lost his brother to cancer in 2006. “He always wanted to come to America and be a basketball star. We were joking around, and I told him that, one day, I was going to become a professional athlete.”
Three years later, Sam’s father was murdered in Nigeria, where Sam was born.. In their final conversation before his killing, Sam made the same promise.
“We were eating rice and African soup, and my dad asked me if I was going to take over the family business one day,” Cooper remembered. “I told him I was going to be a pro athlete when I grew up. That was the last time I talked to him before he was killed.
“Those two deaths drive me. Adverse situations shape your life. I have been through some very dark times. Since 2009, I’ve been seeing red. It has driven me to fulfill my dream and motivated me to get to where I am today.”
Last week, Cooper was one of 18 senior offense lineman from across all of college football to be selected to the legendary East-West Shrine Bowl, the oldest college football All-Star game in the country, established in 1925. Past participants in the game have included Tom Brady and Jimmy Garoppolo.