Bucs News · Words of Wood- Coop

Hoover Buc Football’s Coop

                                                                                By Wayne Wood
   Cooper Tullo is a senior wide receiver for the 2019 Hoover High Buc Football Team. His life story probably exceeds the meaning of perseverance in several ways. At 5-8; 176, he obviously is small by certain football standards yet he has a heart as big as can be and this doesn’t just mean sports.
   His position coach, Miles Holcomb, has this to say: “Where do  I start with Coop? This kid is the epitome of resilience & toughness. We have a special group of wideouts in our unit this year & he is one of the leaders of that unit. Typically, we all just call him “Tu” (sounds like Two). If you were to come out to practice at any time, you will always see him with a smile on his face & definitely his practice “swag.”
   “As a player, you could always tell he was going to have a special year by the way he worked this off-season. It didn’t matter if we were in the weight room, going through the playbook, or working in 5 on 1, he always brought it.”
   “There was a play early against Central-Phenix City that really shows the kind of player & person Tu is. We have a 1st & 24 where we call a stutter play. Tu is the guy we will come down to if they bailout. Well, they end up bailing so our QB Robby Ashford checks the ball down to Tu. Now if you know Tu, you know he isn’t a guy of great stature but he catches it at the line of scrimmage & instead of stepping out when he picks up what he can pick up, he decides to take on 3 Central defenders that are pursuing the ball to pick us up 6 yards. Once we sat down to watch the film, we were all like, ‘Hey man get what you can get but don’t take unnecessary shots.’ His reply was exactly as you would imagine, ‘I got that one kid though coach!’ “
   “I absolutely love coaching him! As a person, I would describe him as inspiring. He is the type of kid that you want your son to grow up to be like. He is more of an inspiration to me than he will ever know. To go through what he has gone through, and to come back as strong as he is, is remarkable. I’m sure he struggles with things that none of us know about simply because he doesn’t want to bother anyone with something he feels like he can take care of himself.”
   “I’m sure most of his strength comes from his family. If you were to rank football families, the Tullo’s would be close to the top of that list. His mom & dad, Kim & Mike, are incredibly supportive of us as coaches & him as a player. His brother, Landry, is a coach himself & pushes him to be better than he was as a player. Tu is an absolute pleasure to be around & coach. There is no doubt he will grow up to be successful at whatever he decides to do!”
   Yet we need to go back to get a more complete background on Coop. He was born in Hoover on July 31, 2001. He & his two older brothers grew up in Russet Woods playing football in the vacant lot on their street. They all went to South Shades Crest Elementary School & were blessed to have a lot of the same teachers. Here is his mother, Kim, to further relate Coop’s Story.
   “Cooper grew up playing football, baseball & basketball determined to keep up with his brothers. If there was a court, a field, a vacant lot or a neighbor’s yard, they were playing something. His oldest brother, Landry, played Hoover competitive football & his dad coached so Coop was always at the football field.”
   “When he was 5, he started Hoover competitive football at Hoover East, tee-ball at Shades Mountain Park & Hoover Rec basketball. When he wasn’t at his own practice or games, he was a Landry’s game running around the end zone or hanging with the big boys at Bumpus Middle & Hoover High. All through youth sports, Cooper never missed a practice or a game ever. He was always bouncing around, dancing, doing flips, healthy, happy & having fun. He just had that spark, that confidence. I always told him that he was lightning in a bottle. He played quarterback, running back, a linebacker in football, a point guard in basketball & about every position in baseball. Every year in every sport his team either won the championship or played in the championship game.”
   “Then, in the summer of 2013, when he was getting ready for 6th grade at Brock’s Gap Intermediate School, he started struggling with what seemed like an intestinal virus. After a week or so, he wasn’t getting better & we took him to the pediatrician for tests. All of the blood, urine & fecal tests were negative but he was not getting better & not really eating or sleeping. He had gone to Coach Niblett’s youth football camp every year since he was 5 and was determined to try to go.”
   “He looked pale & when I picked him up from camp & watched him for a while, he looked off & couldn’t catch his breath. He had another appointment at the pediatrician that Thursday to get immunizations for school. Landry was getting ready to leave to play football at Delta State in Mississippi & Cooper really wanted to go with him to the National 7 on 7 Tournament to watch Hoover play. They went with the plan for me to pick him up, go get shots, & talk to the doctor again about his symptoms & show him his stomach which felt hard.”
   “We showed Dr. Cortopassi, his pediatrician his whole life, his abdomen which had grown harder & had begun to protrude literally overnight. The doctor called me into the hall & he told me Coop needed an ultrasound immediately. It was a huge mass. It was late in the day, so there was no way to get him until first thing in the morning.”
   “After the ultrasound, the radiologist said we needed to go to Children’s Emergency room & that they had been notified & were waiting for us to do a CT scan. The CT showed what they thought was Burkitt’s Lymphoma &that an oncology team was on the way down to meet with us. All I could think was ‘Oncology? Cancer? Cooper? He is never sick. This is not possible.’ Cooper thought they were telling him he was going to die.”
   “The oncologists showed us his CT in another room. Cancer had consumed his whole torso. There was no more room for the tumor to spread so now it was protruding & had collapsed his lung. Burkitt’s insinuates itself between tissues rather than growing as a lump so it was everywhere. He was admitted immediately & they started preparation for surgery to biopsy the tumor, repair the lung & implant a port for chemotherapy”
   “The biopsy revealed Stage 3 Burkitt’s Lymphoma which is a very rare, aggressive cancer that can double every 24 hours. The one positive was that it had not yet spread to his spinal fluid or brain. Because Burkitt’s attacks so aggressively. Cooper was already Stage 3 & his treatment required chemotherapy as much as his body could take as fast as it could take it.”
   “His oncologists, Dr. Berkow & Dr. Hamm, who had experience with Berkitt’s, were able to get him approved also for a trial immunotherapy drug that had some success in adults & would need that therapy as well as the chemotherapy protocol. Most oncologists see few, if any, cases in their lifetime so we were very grateful for them.”
   “Treatment included multiple chemotherapy drugs & infusions, lumbar punctures, IV’s, ultrasounds, x-rays, pet scans, CT scans and in between treatments, daily shots to increase his white cells so his body could recover quicker & start again. His arms were so bruised the nurses had to start using the tops of his hands & is toes for the needles. He was in the hospital for weeks at a time & when he was not, he was at Clinic 8, the Hematology & Oncology clinic at Children’s Hospital. Almost immediately he started having mouth sores, horrible vomiting, high fevers, insomnia & lost his fair. His heart rate was extremely low & after FKG’s & echocardiograms, a cardiologists monitored him. Because his body was being destroyed with such potent chemotherapy he was very susceptible to neutropenic fever & ended up in the ER & back in the hospital regularly. That was dangerous not only because his body couldn’t fight infection, but also because it delayed treatment. It got to be where he was scared not to be at the hospital. There were several more weeks of treatment and eventually another surgery by Dr. Bierle and a long time hopeful healing through a very complicated process for him.”
   “Eventually Cooper was able to go back to school as much as he could handle without being exhausted & there were no major viruses going around. His immune system struggled to recover for at least two & a half years concerning his oncologists, Dr. Hamm & Dr. Hilliard, so we continued to go to Clinic * monthly.”
  “Cooper missed playing football that year. That was honestly probably the hardest part for him. All his teammates made him cards & were determined to win the championship for him which they did. Countless people in the Hoover community prayed, served, encourages & raised funds to support Cooper & our family. Carrie Pomeroy & Bruce Kilgore, who coached with Coop’s dad, made shirts & bracelets to raise money to help us with medical bills.”
   “Brock’s Gap Intermediate School had a special day to encourage & support Coop. All the kids wore their Super Cooper shirts & bracelets & sent him encouraging messages & pictures. Some of his best friends decided to shave their heads to make him feel less alone. At the Bumpus/Simmons game, everyone wore their shirts & lime green socks for lymphoma in support. They painted the field with the Super Cooper logo & released balloons with him on the field at halftime.”
   “Chris Mileski, a fellow youth football coach, had his football team wear special jerseys with Cooper on the back in lime green. They face-timed him in the hospital so he could see how much they missed him. Coach Niblett, Coach Raney & Coach Evans all came to the hospital to see him. Families made weeks of meals while I was at the hospital & Carson, a junior at Hoover High running cross country & track, was at home. Teachers from across the Hoover school donated sick days to me for work. There were so many kind acts from the city of Hoover.”
   “Organizations like Hope for Autumn Foundation stepped in to help with the mounting medical bills. Open Hands Overflowing Hearts, Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, Camp Smile a Mile, Make a Wish and so many have been instrumental in Coop’s recovery.”
   “Cooper was able to play baseball & basketball first with a cover over his port & limited contact. There were still challenges though. One game day he spent the day at the hospital getting a lumbar puncture & still played in the baseball game that night. He was not missing, no matter what.”
   “The next year Cooper was determined to get back on the football field and was finally cleared for contact sports just in time to play at Bumpus. He played starting safety both in 7th & 8th grade despite still battling a weak immune system. He stayed at starting safety for Hoover’s 9th & JV teams and had worked hard to compete at the highest level he can. Having had such potent treatment, his growth was limited at a critical time but his determination to contribute has motivated him. He moved to WR in his junior year.”
   “Cooper sees the ability to play sports as a privilege. He has had his ability ripped away from him suddenly & faced the possibility of never playing again. He says that inspires him to strive to be the very best player & person he can be. He is grateful for every experience opportunity & wants to spend his life helping others face their challenges & fight through to be their best & accomplish their goals.”
   From his brother, Landry: “In June of 2013 Cooper came up to see me at work at Moe’s BBQ in Hoover. The all-day shift was tough so getting to see him made things leaps & bounds better. I was departing for Delta State University to start my collegiate football career late that July so the days with Coop were quickly counting down. Coop soon began to suffer from stomach pains & I could see he wasn’t himself. I remember feeling distraught & utter helplessness. I was confused & searching for answers because I was always his protector & advisor.”
“Fast forward mid-way into the month of August where Coop was having non-stop heavy chemotherapy. He started to lose his hair & became bald. Dad shaved his head like several others. I wanted to shave my long blonde hair but Coop insisted I was too ugly to do that and keep it long!”
   “I would wear my Coop shirt & wristband during practices & games. My linebacker coach, Lanier Goethie even wore a shirt and bracelet. I kept up through texts knowing of his long, rough times as mom would inform me. I dedicated every play & practice to Coop that freshman year. Football became much smaller that year knowing that my brother would’ve done anything to be on the field for just one play. I could man up during tough practices because Coop was fighting a much tougher battle.”
   “Coop is a true fighter & scrapper and is someone I modeled my game after. He has brought smiles to so many faces and by the grace of God alone, he still puts smiles on faces today. I am truly thankful for the young man he has become & continues to be. I know Coop is not going to quit regardless of the circumstances at hand. I could not be more proud of him as a brother and am truly thankful to God for allowing Coop to spend more time on this earth as a light for others.”
   From his brother Carson: “Before Cooper had cancer, he was all about sports. He was always one of the fastest kids in his grade growing up and he always showed it. He loves everything about life & does every sport he plays to the max. When he was in pre-school, he said he wanted to be a professional football & basketball player. Lots of kids say that with big aspirations but if anyone could truly do it Coop would have.”
   “When I found out he had cancer, I was dumbfounded, confused & just heartbroken. After conquering cancer, Coop grew so much for a boy his age. He was truly grateful for everything & everyone around him. Every experience was special. He did not like talking about cancer because he felt like it brought attention to him & he never wanted to feel like a burden or take people’s time.”
   “Seeing my brother take on this huge disease and beat it was so inspiring to me and everyone in the Hoover community. Even though I am his older brother, I look up to him for his strength and resolve. He lives every day to the fullest and believes God has given him the opportunity to teach others what it means to face adversity head-on and persevere no matter how many setbacks. He will forever be an inspiration to me.”
   Indeed, Cooper Tullo is an inspiration to all who know him. He is truly a devoted Hoover Buc!