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Performance means more than appearance

By: Cecil Conley, Sports Editor
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His Rocklin High School teammates can wear the facemask shields and flashy gloves, the neck rolls and headbands. All senior defensive tackle Nick Cooper needs is the uniform he was issued. Cooper’s only fashion statement is the white shirt he wears underneath his jersey. It has to be white so the referees will not notice when his jersey is untucked. He prefers his jersey to hang out. The 6-foot-3, 250-pound Cooper is not concerned with his appearance as much as his performance. “I tried wearing gloves, but my hands were wet and nasty,” Cooper said. “Some guys wear tape (on their uniforms and shoes) because they like the way it looks, but I don’t think it helps them out.” Accessories did not do Rocklin much good last Friday night. The Thunder disappointed a festive homecoming crowd with a 28-21 loss to Roseville and dropped to 1-1 in the Sierra Foothill League. The loss snapped Rocklin’s four-game winning streak and left the Thunder at 5-2 overall. Head coach Greg Benzel’s team is 0-2 this season when allowing an opponent to score 20 or more points. Rocklin has become a targeted team in 2010 after going 14-1 and playing in a state bowl game last year. “It’s a lot different this year for us,” Cooper said. “We’re getting everybody’s best game this year.” And Cooper is getting the assignment of going against the opposing team’s best offensive lineman. He locked horns with Del Oro tackle Ryan Cope two weeks ago in Rocklin’s 27-18 victory. “We all call him ‘Pac-10,’” Cooper said of Cope, who thanks visitors to his Web site (www.ryancope.77.com) for showing interest in him. Cooper would never think of having a Web site or doing anything to attract attention to himself. “He’s really quiet. You don’t think anything going on up there, in his mind,” Benzel said of Cooper. “But when he speaks, everybody listens. He’s a leader. He understands what it takes to play the game.” Cooper has come into his own, Benzel said, after playing alongside his brother Trevor on Rocklin’s defensive line in 2009. Cooper could always count on his brother to critique his performance. “Trevor held me accountable,” he said. “I talked to him after ever play. When I messed up, he let me know.” Rocklin cannot afford to mess up Friday night when it takes a short trip to Roseville to battle Woodcreek. As Benzel pointed out, “(Woodcreek) is the best 0-2 team in the league. They could be 2-0.” Speaking of two, the Thunder will be without linebackers B.J. Roberts and Zach Moreland against the Wolverines. Roberts sustained a concussion and Moreland a stringer against Roseville. The loss also left the Thunder hurting. “(Cooper) was pretty torn up,” Benzel said. “He’s not a bang-your-head-against-a-locker kind of guy, but he understands where we’re at and what we need to do.”