INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. - Before Xavier Cooper played football, he played futbol.
An alum of Tacoma's Wilson High School, Cooper grew up at forward for club teams in the Puget Sound region.
"That was my first sport," Cooper said on Friday from his podium inside Lucas Oil Stadium, headquarters of the 2015 NFL Scouting Combine. "After I got too big for soccer they kind of kicked me off the field. Parents didn't like me out there pushing their kids."
Cooper took his size to the basketball court, hooping at power forward for AAU squads in the Seattle area. It wasn't until his first year at Wilson High that Cooper found his way to the gridiron.
"I fell into football my freshman year at high school and since then I've been running the race," he said.
That race included a four-year stop at Washington State University, where Cooper played defensive line for the Cougars. In his stay on the Palouse Cooper racked up 121 tackles, 31.5 tackles for loss, and 13 sacks. He chose to forego his final year of eligibility in order to enter this year's draft.
"I sat down with my family, my mom and dad and I also talked to my coaches and I felt like I was physically and mentally ready to chase my dream," Cooper said. "Now I'm here and I'm just blessed to have the opportunity to showcase my ability."
But the decision to enter the NFL didn't come easy, something Cooper expressed in an open letter to Wazzu fans two days into 2015.
"I just wanted to let Cougar nation know that it was a tough decision for me," he said. "It took me a long time. I just didn't jump right after the season and say I was leaving. It took all the way to the end of new years."
Even with professional football in his near-future, Cooper already has plans for what he wants to do once his NFL career pans out.
He's currently eight credits away from graduating with a degree in criminal justice from WSU, which Cooper said he hopes to finish "real soon." A masters in education is the goal after that, an achievement Cooper said he'd use to seek out a position as a principal in the Tacoma area to help inner-city kids.
"It's important because I was once in their shoes," Cooper said of his after-football aspirations. "I think we all were. I think we all growing up had a dream, wanted to do something we were passionate about, and I believe those kids deserve that opportunity."
Cooper, who said he's sent gear he's received from this week's combine back to kids in his hometown, has already molded the message he'd deliver to Tacoma's youth.
"I just tell the kids to dream, really," he said. "Don't let anybody stop you from what you want to do. There's nobody in this world that's self-made, but there's a lot of people that are self-motivated. I believe that's me.
"A lot of people helped me, but I've always been the one to wake up every day and go out there and get what I deserve. Hard work has got me here."