ORLANDO — Rams wide receiver and return specialist Pharoh Cooper is 22 years old. Selected in the fourth round of last year's NFL Draft, he's attending his first Pro Bowl this week in Florida.
Cowboys tight end Jason Witten is 35. A model of consistency, he completed his 15th regular season in 2017 having made 63 receptions for 560 yards and five touchdowns. He's now at his 11th NFL All-Star game.
It's a stark contract between the two players, who are both at opposite ends of their professional careers. But it's also created a surreal dynamic at times for the young Ram this week.
"He's like, 'What's up, Pharoh? Good to see you again,'" Cooper said of his interaction with Witten. The Rams have faced the Cowboys three times — twice in preseason and once in the regular season — since Cooper was drafted last year. "And that's cool for me — growing up, I used to play with him in video games. So it's just little things like that, you'll never forget it. So special moments like that."
Though he's here as a return specialist, Cooper has also had his share of time at wide receiver during practice over the course of the week. There, he's made catches from Super Bowl winning QBs like Drew Brees and Russell Wilson — as well as his usual quarterback, Jared Goff. And there's something special about catching passes from the league's best. That's goes especially for someone like Brees, who is another player Cooper grew up watching.
"Drew Brees was throwing the ball, Russell Wilson throwing the ball, obviously Jared, been with him all year. But just to catch the balls from Brees and Russell Wilson, that's a cool thing as well," Cooper said.
Another factor that will make Cooper's week special is that he has a lot of family coming down — parents, grandparents, siblings, aunts, uncles — to watch him play in Sunday's game. Being from North Carolina but playing home games on the West Coast, it's not often that Cooper's entire family gets to see him play.
"They've come to a couple games but it will be cool," Cooper said. "They're just driving down — they're right in North Carolina, so it'll be cool for them to come."
The young wideout has been enjoying how many teammates he's had around him in this process, particularly since many of them have been to the Pro Bowl before. And Cooper noted the fact that the Rams had a total of eight Pro Bowl players in 2017 does show the kind of success Los Angeles had this past season.
"The All-Pro team and the Pro Bowl speaks for the season we had — the players around us as well that didn't get a lot of awards. That just speaks a lot to our program — it's going to keep building," Cooper said. "We're also a young team, so, we're going to keep getting better and better."