By Adam Knorr
Local Sports Journal

MUSKEGON – When Reeths-Puffer’s opponents talked about playing the Rockets this season, they probably assumed their biggest challenge would be stopping Dereko Riley.

After all, the junior running back gained 837 yards last season while sharing carries with two quality senior backs.

Jordan Cooley

Jordan Cooley

But Riley went down with a hamstring injury in the preseason this year, forcing him to miss the first three games.

That left the door open for another playmaker in the Rocket attack, and Jordan Cooley took full advantage.

“I knew I had to step up until (Riley) came back,” Cooley said.

The 16-year-old junior filled Riley’s shoes with honors.

His two biggest games came in the first two weeks of the season, while Riley was healing.

He gained 132 yards on 15 carries in the season-opening victory over Holland. He also contributed an 80-yard fumble return and an interception on defense.

Cooley was even more explosive against Fremont in Week 2, rushing for 196 yards, including three touchdowns, on 19 carries.

“I was just ready to play and I had a lot of energy that day,” said Cooley, referring to the Fremont game. “I’m nervous on the first play of the game, but once I get hit, I’m ready.”
He had another strong game last Friday in the Rockets’ 39-34 loss to Zeeland East, returning a kickoff 70 yards for a touchdown and catching a 48-yard touchdown pass.

Cooley likens himself to former University of Oregon running back DeAnthony Thomas – a shifty, slippery, high-motor runner. On his long runs, Cooley twists, jukes and dodges until he’s in the clear, then there’s no catching him.

He’s quick to dish the praise that has been coming his way in recent weeks. Like all good running backs, he credits his offensive line for allowing him to make such an impact in his first varsity season.

He can’t pinpoint what other factors have led to his sudden success, but Reeths-Puffer head coach Kyle Jewett has a few ideas.

“His best characteristic is that he’s just fearless,” Jewett said. “He’s only about 160 pounds but he runs the ball with everything he’s got… He doesn’t care who he’s playing or how big the guy is across from him.”

Perhaps part of Cooley’s success can be attributed to his familiarity with the guy handing and throwing him the ball. Reeths-Puffer quarterback Jalen Cooley is Jordan’s twin brother, and is also a first year varsity starter.

They seem to be clicking well together, which should not be surprising, since they been playing together since they were small kids.

“It’s fun to play with my brother every year,” Cooley said

Reeths-Puffer opened the season 2-0, but consecutive losses to Grand Haven, Lowell and Zeeland East have put their playoff hopes on the bubble.

The good news is that their backfield is intact again. Riley is back in the lineup and demonstrated his health by gaining 104 yards and scoring a touchdown Friday.

The three-pronged running attack of Riley, Cooley and Evan McCrary will be challenging for opposing defenses, to say the least.
Reeths-Puffer visits Grand Rapids Union in an O-K Black Conference matchup this Friday.

Cooley, for one, thinks the sky is still the limit for his team this fall.

“I know we can make it if we push ourselves harder and not make as many mistakes,” he said.