He wears shoulder-length hair that doesn’t look out of place today but that would have gotten his grandfather cut from the football team in short order.
He plays on artificial turf that replaced the grass field where his grandfather roamed more than 50 years ago.
And he plays a position that puts a premium on hunting down quarterbacks, rather than the quarterback position where his grandfather starred.
Cooper McGuire is proud of be following in the footsteps of Herb McGuire, his grandfather and one of the most recognizable names in Centre College athletic history. But he is also leaving his own distinctive mark on Centre football with his play and leadership on defense this season.
His combination of speed, strength and smarts has made him a big-play threat at defensive end for the Colonels, who had the Southern Collegiate Athletic Conference’s best defense in each of his first two years as a starter and got their first shutout of this season last week.
And he couldn’t be happier to be playing at the same school that his grandfather attended.
“When I decided to play college football, Centre College was my first and only choice, just because of the legacy, honestly, and I’m glad I’m here,” Cooper McGuire said.
Herb McGuire is every bit as glad that his grandson is playing — and playing well — for the school that has been part of his life for almost 60 years.
“I have a real, real strong feeling for Centre College and a strong feeling for their football ... and I was really happy that he came to Centre and started playing right away,” he said.
Centre coach Andy Frye is happy about it, too, given the fact that Cooper McGuire seems to have taken his game to another level in his senior season.
“Cooper really prepared this summer, and you’re seeing the effects of that. He’s on, I call it a vision quest. He wants to impact the team,” Frye said. “And he’s taken a leadership role and done really well with it.”
McGuire is among Centre’s leaders in tackles through three games with 17 total tackles, 1 1/2 sacks. He also has three forced fumbles and one fumble recovery for the Colonels (3-0), who play at DePauw on Saturday.
He is small for a defensive end at 6-3 and 215 pounds, but he has other assets that make him extremely effective.
“He’s the same size he was when he was a sophomore, but he’s a lot stronger and he’s a lot smarter,” Frye said. “He plays bigger than what he is. He’s a strong football player. He’s a 215-pound defensive end, which is small, but he makes it up with speed. And he’s got a lot of grit; he’s a tough kid.”
McGuire said he is better suited for Centre’s 4-3 scheme than he was for the 3-5-3 used by Lexington Catholic, where he played his last two high school seasons.
“I just capitalize on my speed and rely on the guys behind me to give me time to get back to the quarterback,” he said.
His grandfather said what he likes most is Cooper’s passion for the game.
“I’ve never seen any kid like football more than him,” Herb McGuire said. “I think I had a passion for it, too.”
Herb McGuire lettered in football, golf and track and field while attending Centre from 1953-57. He was a member of the 1955 football team that was the last Centre team to go undefeated, and he played semipro football for a time after graduation.
He went on to spend 40 years as a coach and faculty member at the school, coaching football from 1972-79 and also coaching baseball, golf, track and field and cross country during his career. He was inducted into the Centre College Athletic Hall of Fame in 2003.
Cooper McGuire is proud of his grandfather’s legacy, and he needed little time to decide Centre was also the place for him.
“I got a call from Centre, and as soon as I got that call I knew I’d be here,” he said.
He said he didn’t picture himself as a college football player when he transferred from Danville to Lexington Catholic after his sophomore year. But Herb McGuire said his grandson thrived at Lexington Catholic under coach Bill Letton, who had played for Herb McGuire at Centre.
Herb McGuire said Cooper has matured that much more during his time at Centre, making great strides not only in football but also in academics — he is on the dean’s list — and personal growth.
“Centre’s really helped him,” he said. “Without a doubt, he’s matured a lot, especially when you talk to him now and if you’d talked to him four years ago.”
Cooper McGuire couldn’t agree more.
“Being here at Centre I feel like I’ve really developed the most as a football player and as a man,” he said.
McGuire cracked the starting lineup as a sophomore and finished that season with 37 tackles and a team-high seven sacks, and last year he had 33 tackles and 3 1/2 sacks.
“He has a lot of athletic ability, and what I like personally is he really goes after people. He loves the contact,” his grandfather said. “And the way he works at it makes you proud of him.”
Cooper’s offseason work began paying dividends in Centre’s season-opening win at Hanover when he made a team-high five tackles and recovered a fumble.
“Andy told me that was probably one of his best games at Centre, but I didn’t tell Cooper that,” Herb McGuire said. “We’re all proud of him, and especially me.”
The grandfather is also proud that his grandson made a decision to change his uniform number this season. Cooper wore No. 67 in his first three seasons at Centre, but he switched to No. 15 after seeing a photo of his grandfather in the school’s athletic hall of fame display.
“In my grandfather’s picture in the hall of fame he’s wearing No. 15, so I really want to step up, and I’m wearing 15 for him,” he said.
“It makes you feel like you’re out there playing a little bit,” Herb McGuire said.