RUPERT | Brad Cooper walked by each sparring pair during a recent wrestling practice at Minico High School. His eyebrows were raised high and straight. His glasses sat atop his head. His expression was pensive. While his 43 kids practiced different moves assistant Jake Hruza demonstrated on the mat, Cooper told them what adjustments to make.
Just the day before, they wrestled for position on the varsity team. Though he said he has some exceptional kids on his roster, Cooper told them he saw a lot of sloppy wrestling.
“We want to see hand fighting,” he said at Wednesday’s practice. “Angles and openings.”
It’s a plan of attack Cooper, returning from a five-year absence, has preached for nearly 25 years as Minico’s wrestling coach. It’s a plan that has paid off. In his years as coach, the Spartans have won one state championship and 19 regional championships.
But for Cooper, the biggest joy he gets out of wrestling isn’t the championships and the accolades—it comes from the discipline his team learns. What he teaches them on the mat is not just about wrestling—it’s about life, he said.
“It’s a challenge,” Cooper said. “It’s about the kids. I love seeing kids grow up into men.”
Just above six-feet tall, Cooper, a Minico graduate from 1978, competed in the 167 class during his years as a Spartan. He then attended Idaho State University on a wrestling scholarship and after graduating, returned to Minico to coach the Spartans.
His style then was aggressive—always attacking. The same goes for the approach his kids are learning today.
The current roster comprises weight classes ranging from north of 90 pounds to nearly 140 pounds. It’s a young group of mostly freshmen and sophomores. Only two seniors are on the roster.
They all lapped around a muggy gym with red mats and yellow and tan brick walls. Then each wrestler ran from one side to the other, diving on the ground and tumbling. Then they each got on their back and pushed themselves to the end of the gym with their feet with their arms flailing.
One smaller, timid wrestler quietly said he was going to hang around the weight room that day.
“Practice with the rest of the group,” Cooper told him. “We decide what you’ll do today. We want you to get better.”
Cooper, who has had a knee replacement since taking a break from the team a few years ago, said he’s changed his approach to coaching.
Whereas before he’d be on the mat demonstrating moves to the kids, he now has help from former Minico wrestler Hruza. While he runs through take down techniques, and different holds, Cooper walks by the kids, telling them to lock a wrist tighter here or to put pressure on a leg there.
He also has help from teacher Gary Mittelsteadt, Mike Johnston and Boe Rushton, a former All-American from Boise State.
Rushton, a native of Bellevue, first met Cooper around 2003 at a freestyle and Greco-Roman wrestling camp in Idaho. He said he wants to one day coach the program at Minico and is learning the ropes from Cooper. Rushton has learned from Cooper how to take care of administrative duties like hotel arrangements and handling entry fees.
“It’s not hard working for the legend Cooper,” he joked. “He told me he’d fire me if I called him that.”
With the roster all huddled up, Cooper told the kids to be prepared for Thursday’s match against Rigby and Madison. Nails should be trimmed, hair should be trimmed and do not eat a big meal before the match.
“After we weigh in, I don’t want to see anybody eating big hoagie sandwiches,” he told them. “My philosophy’s always been a hungry tiger is a lot tougher than one that just ate.”
Cooper said he’s excited to be back this year. It’s another chance to imprint a dominant style heavy on hand fighting and showing opponents they’re in for a tough match. It’s another year to help kids grow and improve, he said.
“Minico and this community are important to me,” Cooper said. “I want these kids to know they can compete with anyone.”
Local Roundup (Saturday)
Oakley 63, Dietrich 47
DIETRICH | Hewstyn Beck had 15 points, Caleb Nyman 13, Brody Martin 10 and Gannon Critchfield and Matt Pickett nine apiece as the Hornets moved to 2-1 on the season. Garrett Astle led Blue Devils with 13 points. Oakley will next play Thursday against Glenns Ferry. Declo will travel to Challis on Thursday. Dietrich is now 0-2 on the season.
Bonneville 52, Burley 51
BURLEY | The Bobcats lost a heartbreaker to Bonneville Saturday evening, losing in the final seconds on free-throws. Matched-up against a zone defense, the Bobcats made nine threes, including six by Sydney Pilling, accounting for all of the sophomore’s points. Korney Hutchison had a game-high 22 points. Burley is now 4-2 on the season and will host Minico on Tuesday.
Minico 47, Highland 39
POCATELLO | The Spartans remained undefeated with a victory over 5A Highland. Shaylee Gilcrhist had 12, Adrianna Peralez had 12 and Tayla Sayer added 10 for Minico, who moved to 6-0 on the season.