TAMPA — Lakewood High football player Corinna Cooper is nicknamed “Small Fry.’’ And at 5-foot-4 and 130 pounds, Cooper’s nickname holds true compared to her much larger teammates.
However, don’t let her size fool you.
When Cooper approached coach Cory Moore last year about joining the team, he was bewildered.
“She asked if she could join the squad, and I thought it was a joke,’’ Moore said. “I said, ‘Are you serious, how many pushups can you do?’ ”
Cooper responded “How many do you want me to do?”
She dropped down and did 50, and Moore knew instantly Cooper was serious.
The real test, however, was earning the respect of the boys where it mattered — on the field.
As Cooper and Moore walked onto practice field the next day, he asked her if she was scared to get hit since she desired to play running back. Cooper simply laughed.
Moore lined Cooper up against a linebacker in a tackling drill.
She took the ball, put her head down and bowled him over as the other players’ jaws dropped collectively.
“The guys have treated me like I was one of them ever since that moment,” Cooper said.
But Cooper has been proving people wrong since the young age of 5.
“I grew up small, but wanted to play football with the boys, so I did,’’ Cooper said. “I played street tackle football with no pads and earned my fair share of nicks and bruises. But it didn’t affect me. I grew up tough.”.
After making the Lakewood team last year, Moore gave her a chance to carry the ball against Boca Ciega,
“When I got the ball and was hit for the first time, I didn’t feel anything because of my high adrenaline, but I felt at home,” Cooper said.
She finished the season with five carries for 15 yards for the Class 5A state semifinal team. Lakewood’s star player, Ryan Davis, and the rest of the players know Cooper belongs.
“She’s one of us,’’ Davis said. “She runs and practices just as hard as we do.”
This year, Cooper has been sidelined by a fractured leg suffered at a football camp this summer. But if you attend a Lakewood practice, she’s on the sideline hobbling around throwing and catching balls with a bright smile on her face.
“I would love to play football in college if I got a scholarship, but I don’t know if that’s realistic. I’ve always wanted to join the Army after high school,” Cooper said.
Coach Moore understands her worth to the team.
“She’s had a lot of weight on her shoulders, and she’s done well,’’ he said. “She’s done everything the guys have and accepts the challenge.
“We’re very excited to have ‘Small Fry’ be a part of our program.”