Since March, Lincoln Cooley played a six-game mini-football season, had an all-conference wrestling campaign, and turned around and played a 13-game football slate.
And he did it playing both ways in the most physically demanding position on both the Sycamore offense and defense.
“I didn’t mind. I had a lot of fun,” said Cooley, an offensive and defensive lineman for the Spartans. “I just like to play football, so it was great to be out there on the field.”
Cooley had 42 tackles, including 12 in a season-ending loss to eventual state champ Fenwick in a Class 5A semifinal. He’s also was the player most of Sycamore’s running plays went behind, paving the way for four regular backs to average at least 5.9 yards a carry.
The 6-foot, 245-pound junior was named the Fall 2021 Daily Chronicle Football Player of the Year.
“I think it went really well,” Cooley said. “I had a lot of fun out there with my boys.”
Coach Joe Ryan said he didn’t really have an explanation for how Cooley was able to maintain the level he played at with the workload he undertook – although he did say that wrestling definitely helped to make Cooley a better lineman.
“It’s hard to explain to be honest,” Ryan said. “That’s a hard ask of a kid that’s 16 years old to do that and do that at the level he did it. I don’t really have an explanation of how he was able to do it and do it so well.”
Ryan said he was impressed by Cooley’s performance against Fenwick. Not only did he get 12 tackles in the 17-6 loss to a Friars team that went on to win the title against Kankakee, 34-15, but he kept quarterback Kaden Cobb, a Ball State commit, in check.
“To have 12 tackles, and chase down a kid that’s going to Ball State, to chase him down from behind, you don’t see guys that are 6-foot, 265 chasing those guys down,” Ryan said. “And Lincoln was doing that. And I’ll say it again – he was playing both ways.”
Cooley said the loss to the Friars stung despite his performance.
“If you do that good, and the outcome is not what you want, you can’t do much different to change the game,” Cooley said. “We knew they were pretty good, the best team we’ve seen all year. We knew it was going to be a challenge. And it was.”
Ryan said that performance is just one more reason he thinks Cooley can be a devastating force in college like he is for the Spartans.
“I just think the next-level people are really missing the boat on this guy,” Ryan said. “I get we have all these measurables and all that stuff, but I’ve been coaching football a long time, and I know a guy that can play football. And I know he can play it at a high level, whether he’s an inch or a half too short or what.”
And again, Ryan said it’s on both sides of the ball Cooley excels. He said he plans on him playing both ways next year, as he said he’s too valuable to be on the sidelines for too long. He estimated that Cooley played about 95% of the snaps for the Spartans this year.
On offense, he was the lead blocker for a trio of backs – Zack Crawford, Sam Carlson and Nathaniel Altepeter – that all had at least 469 rushing yards, as well as quarterback Eli Meier, who averaged 7 yards a carry.
Cooley said it didn’t matter who was running the ball. His goal was always the same.
“That was it, more or less,” Cooley said. “Just run them over.”