Koopman will wear No. 44 for CWU

April 6, 2012 by  

YAKIMA, Wash. — Taking his seat at a table with an NCAA name card in front of him, Blaine Bennett looked a bit uncomfortable.

That Central Washington had lost, 21-20 to Northwest Missouri State in a 2009 Division II quarterfinal game only minutes earlier, was no doubt a contributing factor.

But on an afternoon of distinct dis-appointment for the Wildcats — a potential tying extra point was blocked with six seconds to play — a relatively new CWU tradition gained instant credibility.

“My first comment,” Bennett said, “is that everyone should stand up when Buddy Wood walks into a room.”

Wood, a senior linebacker, had that day concluded a legendary Central career with 19 tackles. He also wore No. 44, and players who have best exemplified Wood’s spirit have since been chosen to sustain his image.

Thursday, senior linebacker John Koopman became the newest No. 44.

“It was a no-brainer,” said Mike Reno, a Kittitas graduate who made the selection after wearing the number last year as a senior. “John as been here from day one — he’s been here longer than I have, actually. He’s worked extremely hard to make himself a better player and team leader, and he’s overcome a lot in terms of injuries.”

A 6-foot-1, 215-pounder from Enumclaw, Koopman is in his sixth year at Central after redshirting his first season and being granted a medical redshirt year when an injury prematurely ended his 2008 season.

He became a special teams standout in 2009 and 2010, then emerged as the Wildcats’ second-leading tackler at middle linebacker last season with 30 solos and 28 assists.

“John was an excellent choice for all the right reasons,” Bennett said. “He has overachieved at the linebacker position after working his way up to a starting role. He’s become an impact player for us and has been outstanding in both the weight room and the classroom. He’s an excellent student who will graduate with a very good GPA, and he has seen these other players wear No. 44 so he knows what it represents.”

Primarily, Reno said, it represents leadership and commands respect.

“With the guys who wore the jersey before me,” he said, “the other players just naturally looked up to them. They would have no matter what number they wore because of the types of players and people they were.

“But now, it’s reached the status of other guys looking at whoever is wearing No. 44 and thinking, ‘He’s the boss.’”

Linebacker Adam Bighill wore the number after Wood did, with defensive lineman Mitch Reffett having earned the distinction retroactively in 2008. The awarding of the number became an official program tradition following that season.

Filed under All, CWU Football

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