Jason Richard Cooper, 52, died unexpectedly at home in Darien, Conn. on Saturday, July 7.
Jason was born January 16, 1966, in Nyack, N.Y., to Kay and Thomas Cooper of Oxford, England.
Jason was raised in New Canaan and attended West School, Saxe Junior High and graduated from New Canaan High School with the Class of 1984.
He graduated from Duke University in 1988.
Jason, better known as “Coop” to friends, was one of New Canaan’s most decorated athletes in both football and lacrosse. He garnered numerous All-State and All-FCIAC honors during his career.
As a junior tight end and defensive end, he was a key member of the 1982 Rams football team that won the State Championship, defeating Naugatuck 20-12.
In the Dec. 9, 1982 edition of the New Canaan Advertiser, columnist David Camerer described the final minutes of that championship: “ … with third and three at the Naugatuck 47, (quarterback) Pat Shouvlin spotted Cooper and lobbed the ball to the ‘Golden Fleece Kid’ who trucked down to the 22 yard line. Two plays later with 2:41 showing on the clock Shouvlin hit dependable Cooper with an 18-yarder and on in to make it 20-12.”
That was the first of 12 state championships (to date) for coach Lou Marinelli, in just his second year as New Canaan’s head coach.
Marinelli and former athletic director Vincent Iovino both have said they consider Jason to be one of the most gifted athletes to come through New Canaan High School during their tenure and a key pillar on which New Canaan football’s modern-era successes were built.
Jason was the leading scorer in the State of Connecticut in lacrosse in 1984. At 6 feet 5 inches tall and weighing 220 pounds, he had few peers as an attackman. Defensemen were often out-matched not just by his size, but by Jason’s sheer athleticism.
Jason was recruited by Duke University for football and he also played lacrosse there. During his last football season he played under legendary head coach Steve Spurrier. He was considered “the ACC’s premier tight end” going into the 1987 season. In just nine games in the previous season he was ranked first in catches by tight ends in the ACC with 39 catches and 438 yards and one touchdown. He was also ranked sixth overall among all receivers in the league. Jason was presented Duke’s offensive leadership award in the spring of 1987.
USA Today ranked Jason third among all eligible tight ends going into the 1988 NFL draft. By that time the Duke training staff had him weighing-in at 245 pounds.
Coming out of college he signed a free agent contract with the Dallas Cowboys. He made it to the final cut during that training camp. The next season he signed another free agent contract with the Miami Dolphins. Once again, the run ended at the last cut of training camp, after catching passes from legendary quarterback Dan Marino.
After football, Jason settled in Chicago, working in the financial industry for many years before returning to New Canaan in 2015 to join the coaching staff of the New Canaan Rams alongside his mentor, Lou Marinelli.
He found his passion working with athletes of all abilities and enjoyed instilling his love of athletics in the kids.
“Coop” accumulated legions of great and lifelong friendships. He was a larger-than-life, humble man who valued and cultivated those friendships with great care. He was genuine in his love and interest in the well-being of those closest to him and there were many. Those connections gave him the most joy in life and in turn he spread that feeling to all who were fortunate enough to count him as a close friend. He will be most remembered for his kindness and the light he brought to those around him.
Jason is predeceased by his father, Thomas, as well as his grandnephew, Jayce Owen Buccheri of Groton, Conn.
He is survived by his partner, Katherine Ann Thornton of Darien; her children Liam Staats of Malibu, Calif., and Diana Staats of Venice, Calif.; his mother, Kay; his sister, Tracey Cooper of Oxford, England, and his brother, Robin Cooper of Fitchburg, Mass.; and his sister-in-law, Maureen Gallagher Cooper of Fitchburg. He is also survived by nephew Luke and nieces Jordan and Amy Hawkins of Oxford, as well as nephew Mason and nieces Bailey, Morgan and Riley of Fitchburg. He is also survived by his former wife of 20 years, Zoe Cortopassi of Chicago, Ill.
A memorial service will be held at 9:30 a.m. Tuesday, July 17, Grace Community Church, Grace Farms, 365 Lukes Wood Road in New Canaan, CT.
The family encourages guests to dress comfortably.
Parking is limited. Guests should carpool and arrive no later than 9:15 a.m. Off-site parking is available at 600 Oak Ridge Drive South, South Salem, N.Y.; a shuttle is available from there. The shuttle takes 12 minutes — plan accordingly.
A reception will be held at New Canaan High School’s Wagner Room, 11 Farm Road, following the service.. Refreshments will be served.