Jim Cooper began to seriously pursue a kicking career when he was 11.
Cooper, now a Mainland Regional High School sophomore, almost had no choice: Kicking is a family tradition.
Cooper's father, Jim Sr. graduated from Mainland in 1982 and kicked for the Mustangs. He still holds the school record for the longest field goal, a 47-yarder. Jim Sr. went on to kick at Temple University.
Jim Jr. is in the midst of a stellar season and is closing in on several records. Cooper, 15, has 11 career field goals, jfour shy of the Cape-Atlantic League record of 15 set by 1999 Mainland graduate Ken Dudnick.
Cooper already has made two game-winning field goals this season. His 35-yarder in overtime gave Mainland to a 10-7 win over St. Augustine Prep on Sept. 17. He kicked a 33-yarder with 5.9 seconds left as the Mustangs beat Absegami 17-14 last week.
The Mainland offense has scored 47 points this season. The 6-foot-1, 185-pound Cooper has accounted for 17 of them.
His career long field goal is 39 yards. Cooper, who lives in Somers Point, has kicked a 65-yard field goal in practice.
Mainland Regional (3-2) hosts Holy Spirit (4-0) at 7 p.m. today.
On how he started kicking: We had a bunch of scrapbooks lying around the house from Dad when he used to kick. I wanted to do it because I wanted to be like my dad. He was a great kicker. Kicking is definitely the family business.
On the kicker he most admires: My dad. I think I have an advantage over every other kicker out there because he's been doing it from a young age. We watch a lot of film. He shows a bunch of kickers from the NFL. We really look at their form. We like Billy Cundiff, who kicks for the Baltimore Ravens.
On where he practices: It's pretty funny. We get desperate in the winter. We will kick anywhere. We try to kick at Mainland, but sometimes the lights aren't on. We've gotten to the point where we'll be kicking in a parking lot on the grass neat the light posts. We have a schedule, and we'll kick anywhere to get it done.
On his practice philosophy: The number of balls kicked doesn't matter. My dad always told me it's better to hit 35 to 50 footballs with good reps than kick 200 or 300 footballs without perfect mechanics. That causes bad habits.
On kicking game-winning field goals: You can't go out there and be tense or doubting yourself. I trust that my practicing all year long is going to pay off.
On how the other players treat him during practice: I also play third-string quarterback, but no matter where you are, your team always messes with the kicker. We were running (sprints) and we had to do an extra one because the coaches said the kicker was slacking and everybody was like, 'Oh, the kicker. Of course.' But it's all just in fun.
As told to Michael McGarry