Is Byron Cooper Poised to Lead the IFL in Sacks for 2023?

In 2022 we saw four players stand above the rest when it came to making impact plays in the opposing backfield. Those men were of course JaQuan Artis formerly of NAZ, Undraez Lilly of Sioux Falls, and then it was Jason Serda and Byron Cooper from the Duke City Gladiators. With Artis departing for the XFL following their 2023 draft, there is now a hole at the top of the leaderboard for sacks, and tackles for a loss. Two categories that Artis dominated last season with 12.5 sacks, and 19.5 tackles for a loss. However, Byron Cooper was not far behind on either mark, producing 8 sacks, and 17.5 tackles for a loss.

Could Cooper Lead the League?

Byron Cooper has been a very good pass rusher dating back to high school. With over 6 years of experience playing indoor football, he has developed a toolbox of pass-rush moves that is nearly unrivaled. The question is can he take his success one step further and climb to the top spot on the leaderboard in these two key categories?

Listed as a defensive end/linebacker, he stands 40 pounds lighter than either of the players who managed more sacks. Both of those players are career pass-rushers who have never strayed from the position unless it was to play as a rush linebacker. Cooper has shown he can win with agility, and speed, but also has more power than you would expect from a man that is dwarfed by most offensive linemen he faces head-on.

However, this is nothing new to the man who played linebacker in high school but was recruited as a defensive back. Playing his first three seasons of college at 6’0 200 pounds it wasn’t until year three that they would ask him to move full-time to defensive end. This would ultimately change the outlook of his career. After primarily coming off the bench as a designated pass-rusher for West Chester University, he would transfer to DIII Widener University so he could get on the field.

After producing just 5.5 tackles for a loss, and 1.5 sacks in his previous three seasons playing in 22 games, he would burst on the scene at Widener in dramatic fashion. In his first game of the season, he would collect 4 tackles, including 1 for a loss, and 1 sack. This was more or less the warning shot to opposing teams that you better account for Cooper on every play or suffer the consequences. After one quiet game, he single-handedly destroyed the Wilkes offense in week 3.

Wilkes Wasn’t Prepared

When Widener welcomed Wilkes to town, the thought was that it would be a competitive game, with big defensive plays being the difference in what could be a tight game. Well, Cooper heard the message loud and clear and took it upon himself to bring his team a victory. In one of the most unbelievable performances, Cooper collected 7 tackles, 4 sacks, and 1 forced fumble, effectively taking over the game and shutting down the offense on several occasions.

The crazy part about this…he would again collect 4 sacks against King’s College during an away game late in the season. On November 5th, Cooper topped his previous performance. He had an insane 12 tackles, including 5 for a loss, 4 of which were sacks, and 1 forced fumble. He managed to create 34 negative yards for the opposing offense on the day.

Cooper would go on to finish the season with 43 tackles, 17 tackles for a loss, 11.5 sacks, and 5 forced fumbles in just ten games. Showcasing that he is easily one of the more explosive and impactful players in DIII football that season. After college, Cooper didn’t receive much interest from the outdoor leagues. Despite standing a lot closer to the size of a true defensive end after his stint at Widener, it was somewhat surprising to see no teams from the NFL or CFL offer him a contract given his production. The CFL in particular would seem to be a great fit with the way they prefer smaller, faster pass rushers.

Amarillo Venom

The lack of interest outdoors didn’t stop Cooper from continuing his career, this time signing with the Amarillo Venom before the 2018 season, just 1 season removed from college. The Venom at the time were playing in the Champions Indoor Football League. The CIF was essentially a league that was trying to build to the level of the IFL at the time. Many teams that came and went through the CIF, have wound up in the IFL, or NAL.

Teams like the Bismarck Bucks, Duke City Gladiators, West Texas Warbirds, Bloomington Edge, Sioux Falls Storm, and Quad City Steamwheelers all played in the league and later moved on to bigger leagues. The CIF however was trying to angle themselves as the premier competition for the IFL, and still to this day attempting to rival the IFL long term. This provided solid opportunities for men like Byron Cooper who wanted to continue playing but weren’t getting NFL or CFL calls as regularly as they had hoped.

Over the next three seasons, the Venom would win a total of 19 games logging just 10 losses. Ironically, Cooper would lose the conference championship game to his future team, Duke City, in 2019 by a score of 70-62. In 2020 the league was forced to shutter for a season, before returning in 2021. However this time they returned with fewer teams as the Venom, and Warbirds opted to begin a league called the Lone Star Series to cut down on travel, but keep the teams afloat and playing in 2021.

Unfortunately by the 2022 season, it became clear that Amarillo was facing some very dire financial issues and would be forced to shut down following the 2021 season’s conclusion. This left its players searching for a new home. Cooper for one, wouldn’t have to wait long. He was signed by the team that defeated him two years before finishing out the 2021 season.

Duke City Gladiators

The Gladiators had innate knowledge about what Cooper could do facing him often during their time with the CIF. Whether he was lining up at defensive end, linebacker, or somewhere in the secondary the offense needed to be aware of the leader on defense no matter where he was. Wreaking havoc on opposing offenses was his favorite pastime in the CIF. Now in the IFL, the two-time CIF Champions happily added Cooper to their roster late in 2021.

Playing in just one game during the year Cooper logged 3 tackles, and combined with a teammate on a tackle for a loss. This one game was enough to convince the Gladiators they wanted Cooper back. So they re-signed him for the 2022 season. The Gladiators were rewarded for their belief in Cooper’s abilities as he would come out in 2022 and place third in the league in sacks, and tackles for a loss. Producing 71 tackles, 17.5 tackles for a loss, and 8 sacks on the season. As if the 17.5 tackles for a loss weren’t enough, he managed to affect the game in other ways as well.

Cooper would tack on 3 passes tipped, 3 QB hits, 3 forced fumbles, 2 recoveries, and 2 safeties on the season. Again solidifying the belief in Duke City that he is a foundational piece of this franchise that they want to keep on their team. Heading into the 2023 season, we watched as the leader of the league JaQuan Artis was selected in the XFL draft class. Which leaves a gaping hole at the top of the leaderboards defensively.


With Artis leading the league in sacks, and tackles for a loss with 12.5 and 19 respectively, Cooper, and Lilly will be looked at as the front-runners to fill this void. In terms of tackles for a loss, Cooper fell just one short of his teammate Jayson Serda who had 18 in 2022, in the sack department he was 1.5 sacks off the mark hit by Undraez Lilly for Sioux Falls as a rookie. The question is can the younger players in Lilly, Serda, and many others throughout the league keep up with the savvy veteran who seems to be hitting the prime of his career?

If I was a betting man, I certainly wouldn’t be betting against Byron Cooper and the Duke City Gladiators in 2023. They have all the makings of a championship roster, and no piece on defense is more valuable than Cooper. The only question is how will teams try and slow him down in 2023 and will anyone find success stopping Byron Cooper in a season that he says will be his last on the football field? #WinOneForCoop

Leave a Reply