Fahn Cooper always believed he was destined to play at college football's highest level and then in the NFL.
Cooper formulated a plan he believed would get him there. What the 6-foot-5, 305-pound offensive lineman didn't envision, though, was many detours.
On Wednesday, the 2011 Crystal Lake South graduate will sign a National Letter of Intent to play at Mississippi. It will be the second time in three months he has done so.
He signed with Ole Miss on JUCO Signing Day on Dec. 18 but did not have the minimum 2.0 grade-point-average to begin classes in January and play spring football.
Instead, he is in Crystal Lake, taking online classes through the College of DuPage and hoping to be qualified to join the school after this semester.
Ole Miss will be Cooper's third school in three years. After graduating, he spent two years at Bowling Green, the first as a redshirt, then played this past season at the College of DuPage.
"There have been times when I only felt like I was shades of myself because all of that other stuff was breaking me down,” Cooper said. “Now I feel like it’s more full speed ahead.
"Now I’m thinking about starting against Alabama. I’m thinking about starting in the SEC Championship game. I’m thinking about stuff like that every single day because now, I know what my plan is."
From the first day Cooper arrived at Bowling Green, something didn't seem right.
For nine games his freshman year, Cooper remained on Red Alert, a term referring to first-year players who could be thrown into immediate action. Cooper had chosen Bowling Green, in part, because it offered the opportunity to play right away. But following a road game at Kent State, Cooper was informed he would be redshirted and would spend the final four games of the year on the Falcons' scout team.
Cooper knew he wasn't ready to play. He was still adjusting to college life and balancing academics with football. Making matters worse, Cooper was wondering if he might be happier elsewhere.
He was envious of the life players at bigger schools had. He spoke frequently with former South teammate and offensive lineman Jake Bernstein, who was on scholarship at Vanderbilt. The two talked about life in the SEC, only making Cooper more unhappy with the direction he was headed.
The spring of his sophomore year, Cooper asked Bowling Green coach Dave Clawson for his release. His request was denied. Even though he would go on to start 13 games as a redshirt sophomore for the Falcons, something wasn't right.
"I was always kind of wanted more the whole time I was there," Cooper said.
His dissatisfaction took a toll off the field. There were days, Cooper said, when he woke up telling himself that he didn't want to be there. He didn't want to do anything. Soon, his grades were slipping to the point that he was no longer in good academic standing with the university.
Cooper revisited his plan to leave. He quickly discovered that everyone – including his parents and South football coach Chuck Ahsmann – disagreed. Those closest to him urged him to stay, insisting things would get better if he stuck with is original plan.
Cooper wasn't sold. He told his father, Edwin, that if he left for the College of DuPage, a non-scholarship junior college in Glen Ellyn, he could re-open his Division I recruiting and he could play for the kind of D-1 program he felt like he deserved to play for immediately after high school.
"When he first told me (about leaving), I was doubtful," Edwin Cooper said. "But then I saw how committed he was and I saw how hard he was willing to work. I knew when he puts his mind to something, he can do it."
Cooper always believed his junior college career would be short-lived.
In order to transfer to a D-I school, Cooper needed a 2.0 grade-point average – a mark he felt short of at Bowling Green. But Cooper thought that, in the matter of just one semester, he could perform well enough on and off the field to get to where he wanted to be.
He earned scholarship offers from Texas Tech, Oklahoma and Ole Miss. But he struggled academically without the structure of Bowling Green.
He no longer had an academic adviser to map out his courseload or track his academic performance. He had to go online to register for classes that his family was paying for. If academic issues arose, it was up to him to go the registrar's office and figure them out. For the first time since he left home, Cooper felt like he was on his own.
Cooper was enrolled in 23 credit hours, forced again to balance football with improving his grades enough to accept the Ole Miss scholarship offer. He managed only a 1.84 semester GPA, but Cooper is determined not to fail.
"I kept telling myself, 'You’ve been in this situation before. Your back is against the wall and what are you going to do?," Cooper said. "I’m just going to come out strong.”
For now, Cooper is settled in his family's Crystal Lake home.
He plans to take 11 credit hours of online classes through College of DuPage this spring, taking one more shot at academic eligibility. He works out on his own, pushing himself - by himself - many times around midnight at Lifetime Fitness in Algonquin.
Even though the timing hasn't been perfect, Cooper has proven to those around him that he is capable of fighting back – even when he's had to do it on his own.
"He stuck firm to his beliefs and I give him a lot of credit for that," Ahsmann said. "Now, he's going to the SEC and he's going to play at the highest level. I'm proud of him. Hopefully he's found the niche he needs to be in and hopefully, he can be successful."
When he arrives in Oxford, Cooper has two years of NCAA eligibility remaining. But Cooper understands because he yet isn't where he needs to be, Cooper knows he must kept pushing himself to remain on course.
"Because I let myself down and I let everyone else down and didn’t get that done, now I know this is a second chance on the second chance,” Cooper said. “I know I’ve got to get this done – no ifs, ands or buts. It's just got to get done."