Sterling quarterback Cooper Willman scores a touchdown for the Warriors during the first half of Saturday's game against Quincy in Sterling.
Sterling quarterback Cooper Willman scores a touchdown for the Warriors during the first half of Saturday's game against Quincy in Sterling. — Michael Krabbenhoeft/mkrabbenhoeft@saukvalley.com

Cooper Willman played just about everywhere on the football field growing up and throughout high school at Sterling. Once he gets to college, he will find himself on the move yet again.

Willman, the Sterling senior and Sauk Valley Media’s Player of the Year, will sign his Letter of Intent next week to play football at Eastern Illinois.

After playing running back in youth football, a couple of different spots on the defensive side of the ball early in his high school career, and serving as the Warriors’ quarterback and punter as a senior, Willman will be a wide receiver in college.

“That’s the thing they talked about was that high school quarterbacks are some of the better athletes on the team, so if they’re able to fill a team with high school quarterbacks, they’re going to be really well off,” Willman said. “They really feel they can put me anywhere and they feel I can succeed best at wide receiver. They see I’m athletic. I’m fast. We’ll see what happens.”

Sterling coach Jon Schlemmer doesn’t think Willman will have trouble making the switch after seeing hm run routes and catch balls in practice.

“Whatever position he decides to play, he’s going to be successful. Just a good athlete, good football player and a better person,” Schlemmer said.

The position switch gives Willman a chance to get out of his comfort zone, but other aspects of the way Eastern Illinois runs things on offense will be familiar.

“They play fast. They play no-huddle,” Willman said. “They do hand signals, a lot of things we do at the high school level.”

As a senior for the Golden Warriors, Willman carried the ball 142 times for 1,269 yards and 15 touchdowns. He completed 77 of 115 passes for 994 yards and punted 25 times for 1,025 yards, downing 12 punts inside the 20.

Willman also plays basketball and baseball for the Warriors.

“I think his track record speaks for itself,” Schlemmer said. “Not many kids are able to do what he does, and you don’t see three-sport athletes who excel at all three sports, and it just goes to show, just being involved in so many things, he still put the time in in the weight room and the classroom.”

One of the coaches instrumental to bringing the Sterling Golden Warrior to Eastern Illinois was a Dixon Duke. Benny Boyd is the Panthers’ cornerbacks and special teams coach, joining the staff at EIU last January. Almost immediately, he was in touch with Willman.

“Coach Boyd started talking to me around last year at this time and we’ve been in contact for a while,” Willman said. “He’s always asked me about basketball, asked me a bunch of questions about my life, which means they want me and that really excites me. I went on a visit this past Saturday and everything there I just loved. It felt like where I wanted to spend my next 4 years.”

Willman announced his choice on social media on Sunday and will sign his Letter of Intent when the signing period opens.

Eastern Illinois went 1-11 in 2019, 1-7 in the Ohio Valley Conference. Willman joins an offense that totaled 2,049 passing yards last year on 228-for-449 passing, averaging 170.8 passing yards per game.

“Once everything is said and done, I’m going to text them, get the workout plan, start getting into the weight room a lot more, maybe do some agility once it gets nice out,” he said. “I’ve just got to get my body ready and get ready to work.”

Willman is the second member of the 2019 Golden Warriors to commit to a Division I football program. One of the players who blocked for him, Nate Beyer, will be a preferred walk-on at Northern Illinois.

“These past 3 or 4 years, we’ve kind of put Sterling football on the map,” Willman said. “Over the years, we’ve gotten more and more guys recruited to play football. Me and Nate Beyer and Aidan [Munoz-Ripley], all these guys are starting to play college ball and it’s put us on the map for colleges to think ‘oh, they’ve got some pretty good talent coming out of here every year, let’s check them out, let’s call coach Schlemmer and get these guys’ numbers.’ It’s really helping our program.”

Willman hopes to go into teaching, and that is another reason Eastern Illinois drew his interest.