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Ex-football great highlights UNLV’s Hall of Fame class

Hunkie Cooper always remembers what his mom told him long ago: That the things you do for yourself die and go to the grave with you, but the things you do for others create a legacy that you can’t outlive.

Everything he has done is to promote the latter.

Cooper, the most versatile player in UNLV football history, is among seven individuals who will enter the school’s Athletics Hall of Fame on Friday at the Strip View Pavilion. The 1991 softball team also will be inducted.

Cooper was an all-everything player for the Rebels in 1990 and 1991 after transferring from Navarro Junior College, where the Texas native led the Texas team to a national championship at quarterback.

But he was all of that and more at UNLV, starting at least once at six positions: running back, wide receiver, quarterback, kick returner, punt returner and cornerback.

For your teammates

“I’m just so grateful for this,” Cooper said of his place in the Hall of Fame. “I’m honored by the opportunity that 35 years later my alma mater is paying homage to myself and my teammates.

“You do this for your teammates, for the guys who came before you. Go out and play the game that gave you an education your parents couldn’t afford. To be honored by your peers is one of the greatest achievements in life, with the people who went down the same path with you.”

There weren’t many better players than Cooper in the Arena Football League throughout the 1990s, when he won championships with the Arizona Rattlers in 1994 and 1997.

He was voted the league’s Ironman of the Year in 1999 and 2000 and inducted into its Hall of Fame in 2011. Eight years later, he was welcomed into the Southern Nevada Sports Hall of Fame.

It has been quite a career for the former Canyon Springs High head coach and San Diego State assistant. Cooper eventually found his way back to Las Vegas in 2023 to serve on coach Barry Odom’s UNLV staff as director of player development and community engagement.

“More than anything, I try to give as much of myself and the game to young men, young women, young people,” Cooper said. “The game will change your life forever. It teaches you mental toughness, it teaches you teamwork, it teaches you accountability, it teaches you so many things that are bigger than you.”

Kids these days. They’re far different from when Cooper played.

But he said the lessons imparted never change. They’re about hard work and accountability and availability and durability and being a great teammate.

It wasn’t about a transfer portal or name, image and likeness millions when he played at UNLV. The biggest thing in a player’s life might have been the letter of intent that was signed to attend a college.

“To have that letter and know you were going to have the opportunity to play and get an education was what we all wanted,” Cooper said. “The guys genuinely cared about each other in the locker room.”

Others honored

Also entering the Hall of Fame class of 2024 with Cooper and the 1991 softball team: Bruce Bayne (contributor); Dwaine Knight (men’s golf coach); Kevin Lofthus (baseball); Christine Parris (softball and women’s basketball); Paul Pucciarelli (staff); and Talance Sawyer (football).

Also, the Silver Rebel Award winner and eighth individual to be honored will be former UNLV quarterback Steve Stallworth.

Contact Ed Graney at egraney@reviewjournal.com. Follow @edgraney on X.

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