‘He’s just unbelievable’: OABCIG’s Cooper DeJean named Iowa High School Male Athlete of the Year
Tyler Barnes stared into the camera and issued an apology. This was on Dec. 16, and Barnes, the Iowa football program’s director of recruiting, was discussing the team’s 2021 signing day class.
The apology was directed toward an old neighbor, who Barnes said was from Odebolt, the tiny town in northwest Iowa that’s part of the OABCIG Community School District. That neighbor gave Barnes a recruiting tip that he didn’t take seriously.
At least at first.
“I have to give a shout-out to my former next-door neighbor,” Barnes said that day. “He told me about Cooper (DeJean) when he was a freshman, talking about how great of a basketball player this guy was. I quickly dismissed him saying there’s no way there’s a Division I football player in your hometown.
“I apologize, Travis, I was wrong.”
Cooper DeJean, of course, is part of the Iowa football program’s 2021 signing day class, another small-town, three-sport superstar headed to Iowa City with large expectations. He was an All-Iowa selection in football, basketball and track and field this past season.
As such, the OABCIG senior has been named the 2021 All-Iowa Male Athlete of the Year, which was sponsored by Hy-Vee. He was selected as this year’s winner by staff members of the Des Moines Register and the Iowa City Press-Citizen. The other finalists were Iowa City West’s Marcus Morgan and Bettendorf’s Griffin Liddle.
But DeJean rose above the rest in ways rarely seen even by the most elite Iowa high school sports standards.
The 6-foot-1, 203-pound athlete produced one of the state’s most prolific high school football careers. As OABCIG’s quarterback the last two years, DeJean amassed 9,520 total yards of offense and scored 132 total touchdowns while leading the Falcons to 25 straight victories and back-to-back state titles.
Last November, DeJean led OABCIG to an all-time thrilling fourth-quarter rally over Van Meter in the Class 1A state championship game.
The Bulldogs took a 26-18 lead with 4 minutes, 23 seconds left in the game, but only after DeJean blocked an extra point to keep it a one-possession game. He then scored two touchdowns over the final 156 seconds to lead the OABCIG to a 33-26 win, including a dazzling 19-yard scoring run that later made SportsCenter’s Top-10.
"He's just unbelievable," OABCIG football coach Larry Allen said. "He wants the ball in his hands at the end, and we have full confidence that he's going to do great things with the ball in his hands. The other kids feed off him and believe in him.
“High school kids aren’t supposed to make those kinds of moves,” he added. “When he makes something up on his own, he walks back with a big grin on his face, like he knew it was going to work. And we’re all like, ‘What was that?’”
His performance last fall yielded national acclaim, too. DeJean was named Iowa’s Gatorade Player of the Year for the 2020 football season. He was also named the Adidas National Player of the Year by the All-American Bowl Committee. He is considered a consensus four-star prospect, and a top-150 recruit nationally.
DeJean will play defensive back at Iowa, but his athletic ability was not limited to the gridiron this past year.
He once thought his ticket to college would be through basketball. This past season, DeJean averaged 25.9 points, 7.8 rebounds and 7.1 assists per game for an OABCIG squad that went 21-2. He showcased his playmaking ability through booming dunks, crisp passes, precision shooting (57.8%) and defensively, at 3 steals per game.
“I was fortunate enough to go out on the road last winter, and went to one of his basketball games,” Barnes said. “I think he had four or five dunks in that game, one of which he dunked over two guys, one was about 6-foot-5.
“To see a quiet kid like that once he jumped on the basketball court, this flip switched, to see him operate the way he did. I was texting everybody on staff, this kid is an absolute no-brainer.”
That athletic prowess was also on display this spring.
DeJean was the Drake Relays champ in the long jump, at 22-11.25 feet. A month later, he helped score 38 total points for OABCIG at the Class 2A state track meet by winning the long jump, 100-meter dash, finishing second in the 200, and running the second leg on the Falcons’ 4x100-meter relay team that won a state title.
OABCIG has seen stellar athletes come through before. Most recently, Trever Ryen went from starring for the Falcons to running track at Northern Iowa. After a year, he walked on at Iowa State and recorded 102 career receptions for 1,048 receiving yards and the fourth-best career punt return average (13.37) in school history. He was an Honorable Mention All-Big 12 Selection in 2017.
Travis Chizek, the Falcons’ track coach, joked that, at the time, Ryen was a “once-in-a-lifetime” athlete with a story that’ll be told for decades.
Then DeJean came along and shattered any and all previous expectations.
"He’s just special,” Chizek said the week of the state track meet. “Not only is he a great athlete, he’s an unbelievable competitor."
That’s what’s driven DeJean through each athletic season. He was an All-Iowa Elite selection in both football (Utility) and track (Jumper), and a first-team Class 2A pick in basketball. He drove opposing coaches crazy during the fall and winter, and opponents marveled at his natural abilities in the spring.
Now he’s headed to Iowa City, where he hopes to combine all of his skills to create a stellar second chapter with the Hawkeyes.
“He’s been a big spark for our communities,” Allen added, “and somebody that everybody can get excited about.”
Cody Goodwin covers wrestling and high school sports for the Des Moines Register. Follow him on Twitter at @codygoodwin.