Cooper Bledsoe wasn't gifted any extra seasons of eligibility by the University Interscholastic League, but he sure seemed like high school football's answer to sixth and seventh-year medical redshirt players at the college level.

That's just what it feels like to spectators when a high school player is around long enough to record 425 career tackles and win selections to three all-district teams. The Van safety had serious longevity.

But there was one thing missing from Bledsoe's impressive resume as he embarked on his senior journey -- a playoff win. He had been part of a 10-0 regular season team as a sophomore, a team that scraped its way back to the first round of the playoffs as a junior and still had yet to hoist a trophy.

Bledsoe got to lift four trophies in 2016 as the Vandals' most experienced player. He also led the team in tackles with 170, in interceptions with nine and had a garden variety of other nice defensive stats on top of playing in the running backs rotation and scoring four touchdowns on special teams.

Bearing all that in mind, Bledsoe is the Defensive Player of the Year on the 2016 East Texas Football Super Team.

"You think about how big the region is, it's amazing to be one of the players of the year," Bledsoe said. "There are so many great defensive players around here and I'm just blessed that I can be considered one."

Van Saftey Cooper Bledsoe comes away with a interception.
Van's Cooper Bledsoe (12) comes down with an interception during the Vandals' 33-14 home win over Kaufman on Oct. 29

Van didn't begin its run to the Class 4A Division I regional championship round with very high external expectations. It brought back 11 starters from a rebuilding year, which signified more or less another rebuilding year.

But things were changing inside the locker room with Bledsoe and a handful of other players inheriting senior leadership roles. And those changes would subsequently impact his decision making when it came to taking a leap of faith on National Signing Day.

On a personal level, the safety upped his own time commitment to offseason training. He found time in the summer for two workouts per day, which were fueled by seven meals a day.

The end results were finishing the regular season tied for the lead in interceptions with seven on his way to nine and ultimately placing fourth among all East Texas players in tackles.

Van's first test of the season came right off the bat against a Mineola team that was trying to win a Class 3A Division I state championship with 16 starters that had already played in a state championship and state semifinal game. The Vandals won, 41-21, on the road.

Bledsoe recorded two interceptions.

Mineola did go on to win that state championship that had eluded it the past two seasons.

"Mineola, obviously, was an amazing team," Bledsoe said. "Going into it, we didn't know how good we were. That game really showed us how good we could be, and I felt like we got progressively better from there during the season."

Bledsoe signed with Trinity Valley Community College last week in favor of several NCAA Division II offers and a preferred walk-on invitation from Mike Leach's Washington State program.

As an academic qualifier, the goal for the safety is burn his freshman year of eligibility at Trinity Valley while attracting Division I interest and then transferring after the fall semester. If no schools offer him in 2017, or if he does not like the schools that do invite him, he'll have an opportunity in 2018 to repeat the process.

"This season taught me to be relentless, never stop and always work for the things you want," Bledsoe said. "It was just an amazing year. It was probably the best year of my life and something I'll remember for the rest of it. I love the program at TVCC and I feel like we're going to go over there, win some games and hopefully start this recruiting process over again.

"I just feel like I owe it to myself for all the hard work that I've put in and all the time watching film and studying. Just all the years that I've put into football, I felt like I owed it to myself to try to go to the highest level that I can play. That would be D-I."

Van defensive back Cooper Bledsoe celebrates a stop in the Vandals' third-round playoff win against Paris at Allen Eagle Stadium.
Van defensive back Cooper Bledsoe celebrates a stop in the Vandals' third-round playoff win against Paris at Allen Eagle Stadium.

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