Interview by Tony Langfellow
Phoenix Sproles: Sophomore Wide Receiver New Hope, MN (Robbinsdale Cooper HS)
Phoenix Sproles, who played his high school football for his step-father Willie Howard at Robbinsdale Cooper High School (New Hope, MN) is having a break-out sophomore season. Heading into the final regular season game Sproles had amassed 479 yards receiving on 28 catches and two touchdowns for the unbeaten and top ranked Bison. We caught up with Sproles after their 49-14 win over the University of South Dakota (Nov 16) that clinched yet another conference championship for NDSU:
MN Score: So just tell me about about today’s win
Sproles: We came out and scored on the first drive. Everything was clicking for us really, including third downs. We had a good completion rate on third downs. Running backs were hitting holes, offensive linemen were just pushing their defense the whole game. So big shout to the O line. Quarterback, Trey obviously doing his thing. We just keep on getting better.
MN Score: What’s the outlook for the rest of the season?
Sproles: So today we won the conference championship. We’re just taking it game by game and winning this game, we secure the conference championship. So that was our first goal of the year, (winning) the conference championship. And then obviously to finish the regular season undefeated. And then you know, go from there (onto the) playoffs. Just seeing how good we can actually be. We want to keep pursuing our goals.
MN Score: How do you think that playing for Cooper prepared you to play here?
Sproles: My step dad (Willie Howard) was the head football coach. I grew up with that coaching staff. I was a water boy from fourth grade up until eighth grade. So I was around those coaches basically for what maybe six or seven years, so they’re just all father figures to me, and they just coached me to be the best I can be. And they pushed me. I knew I wanted to play division one football and that was my goal. And I’m telling them that so they set high expectations for me and I had to meet those every game. We played well as a team and they just got us ready.
MN Score: How beneficial was it having coach Howard as a coach
Sproles: Oh really, really beneficial for me. Matter of fact, he’s my coach starting in the third grade. We started in third grade together so it’s been maybe 10 years he was my coach. And you know, he teaches life lessons on the field. Just having him in my corner made football easier. He played in the NFL and at Stanford University. So his knowledge of the game was second to none. So having him in my corner definitely gave me an advantage
MN Score: What advice would you give to other high school students who are wanting to pursue the same thing that you’re doing?
Sproles: I’d tell them figure out what you want and play as many sports as possible. I think a lot of kids now just focus on one sport. I guess that’s just the new thing for younger millennials, or younger kids these days, so I say play as many sports as possible. And then maybe sophomore or junior year, start focusing on two or one sport and be the best you can be in and, you know, strive for greatness, and see where that will take you . That’s what I did.
MN Score: What are some differences that you’ve noticed from playing at Cooper compared to what it is here, obviously a much higher level but what are maybe some of the main differences?
Sproles: So like you said, it’s a higher level, everyone’s bigger, faster, stronger. You could be the same size as someone and they could be 10 times faster than you. In high school there were less injuries (and you had) more freedom. Division one college everyone is division one for a reason. In high school we (Cooper High School) threw the ball a lot more but I knew that coming in here that we (NDSU) were a run first team So I just had to get better on my blocking being a stronger receiver so I could take on those big safeties in our run game and then when the pass comes you’ve got to make a play
MN Score: Would you say it (Cooper) was a good stepping stone to lead you into this?
Sproles: Oh yeah, for sure. Last year mostly my job was blocking as a freshman… and that translated to this year as a starting receiver because of my ability to block, so I definitely used it as a stepping stone.
MN Score: Do you have big plans for the future, post college?
Sproles: Yes, sir. First, we really stress on getting your degree. So first of all, I want to get my degree in management communication with a minor in Spanish. And then after that, I want play in the NFL, that’d be my dream. That’s everyone’s dream that plays division one football, but it’s just something I’ve always wanted to do. So I’m gonna pursue that. But you gotta have a backup plan so I’ll use my degree for good something good,