You’ll often hear football players refer to their lifestyles as a grind. Lifts, practice, film all turn a passion and pursuit into a lifestyle.
Now Cedrick Cooper, just finished with a five-year career as a South Carolina defensive end and linebacker, is about to embrace a different sort of grind. He’ll have auditions and callbacks give way to a different sort of practice and preparation.
In some senses, the end result is the same: to perform.
“I’ve always wanted to act,” Cooper said. “It was a big dream of mine.
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“This is what I really love to do. Acting is something I would love to do for the rest of my life if possible.”
Acting found Cooper early in college. He’d always been animated, always made teammates laugh, always had dead-on impressions. But he didn’t often speak up in class, even in the first theater class he took in Columbia.
The professor coaxed him into doing a monologue, and he surprised.
“People were like, ‘Wow, wow, Cedrick can really act.’ ” Cooper said, looking back.
He also made an impression on a professor, Peter Duffy. A member of the school’s theater department for the past seven years, Duffy suggested Cooper stick with it, if for no other reason than to have a measure of camera presence should football not work out.
Cooper brought something natural and almost intuitive.
“His look alone,” Duffy said. “He walks into a room and he has a commanding presence. And that’s something that reads really well, so that’s really strong for him. He did a scene in class, just let’s get up and do a scene without a whole lot of preparation, and it was just really easy and very convincing and believable.”
Duffy came away thinking Cooper had been through an acting class before, but the Georgia native had not.
Now, with a football career over, he has to play catch-up.
I’ve always wanted to act. It was a big dream of mine.
Cooper took a range of classes, but an athletic career doesn’t allow for participating in performances and shows. He dabbled in making Vines online and learning monologues, but he couldn’t get out and audition because football responsibilities were his primary focus.
Cooper knows an actor with a blank resumé will have trouble getting work. Having already earned an undergraduate degree last spring, he launched into auditioning for productions through the school.
In early November, he secured a leading role in the play “Still Life,” set for February at USC, and was in the running for a few other roles. He could also go to the school’s media art program to see if students need actors for various projects, anything to get on camera.
After that, the Lithonia, Ga., native plans to move back to Atlanta. The city has seen a boom in the film and television industry. While many aspiring actors head to the coasts, Cooper hopes to initially stay closer to his hometown.
He already knows the lay of the land, but if the time and a solid opportunity comes, he’s ready to head far afield.
“I would go anywhere needed,” Cooper said. “If I’m needed in New York, Los Angeles, I’m definitely willing to relocate. I don’t want to just straight go out there, straight jump out there.”
34 Career football games played in at USC for Cedrick Cooper
Duffy said Cooper’s football experience could prove beneficial as an actor because both require a large measure of confidence and discipline, plus physical fitness. There’s the grind of learning lines and auditioning over and over, and much like ball players, actors are usually studying, learning and perfecting their craft.
Cooper honed in on the competitive lessons he could take from his Gamecock days, as acting also is a high-grade rat race.
“It’s incredibly hard,” Duffy said. “The chances of it working out are about as much as becoming a professional athlete. Lots of people want to do it. Lots of people play sports through high school, but that doesn’t mean they’ll make it to that final level. And it’s the same way in theater. If you’re going to be a film actor, there’s hundreds of thousands of film actors, and how many actors can you name?”
In trying to make his way along that path, Cooper will say goodbye to another.
He knows his time on the football field is done. He had some great moments, memorable mistakes. He feels blessed to have been a Gamecock with his teammates. He said there are a few hard moments, occasional awkwardness when an agent asks about his professional aspirations.
But the new grind awaits.
“I want to be able to walk when I’m 40 years old, and at the rate that my body has gone, I’m only 23 years old and I feel like I’m 43,” Cooper said. “The way my body was aching, I was like, ‘Ced, I think it’s time for you to just step back and pursue other dreams.’ ”