FROM THE ARCHIVES: Before directing fame, Ryan Coogler was Sac State football standout


Gage Skidmore - CC BY-SA 2.0

Ryan Coogler speaks at the 2017 San Diego Comic Con for film ‘Black Panther.’ Coogler, an alumnus of Sac State, spoke to The State Hornet about his plans to attend film school at the University of Southern California in 2007.

Eric Jaramishian

Before Black Panther and Creed director Ryan Coogler became a big name in Hollywood, he was a powerhouse for the Sacramento State football team.

Since Coogler’s rise to fame as a movie director, he has become an important piece of Sac State pride and history.

About six years before Coogler’s career as a director kicked off, Sac State alumnus Galen Kusic wrote a football profile on Coogler for The State Hornet in 2007.

In the story, wide receiver Coogler is described as an offensive leader for the Hornet team. Coogler is tied for seventh place with Tony Washington and Nnamdi Agude for most receptions in school history.

Kusic wrote that while Coogler was an important offensive player, he was just as serious about his education, receiving a bachelor’s degree in business finance. Coogler went on to attend the University of Southern California after his time at Sac State.

The story continues on to tell how Coogler split his hand during preseason football, his goal to win the 2007 Big Sky Conference championship and the people that inspired Coogler as an athlete, like professional football player Reggie Wayne, former teammate Roc Green and his family.

Toward the end of the story, Coogler describes his other passion, film, showing an interest in directing and citing his favorite director as Spike Lee, giving readers a taste of his early passion for filmmaking, years before he became a well-known director.

Since his football career at Sac State, Coogler has enjoyed much success as a film director. Even though Coogler has only directed three films, the award winning director is now the highest-grossing African American director with Black Panther, grossing $1.3 billion in the box office and was named runner-up for Time’s person of the year.

The State Hornet is celebrating its 70th anniversary with stories from our archives. Below is the original article by Galen Kusic published on Sept. 11, 2007. For more throwback content, click here.

Coogler catcher

As leader of a young Hornet offensive squad, veteran wide receiver Ryan Coogler has not only established himself as a star on the field but as a star in the classroom and life as well.

Coogler has already obtained a bachelor’s degree in business finance and is currently working on a second bachelor’s. He plans to apply to film school at the University of Southern California after he is done at Sacramento State.

Last year in preseason camp, Coogler split the webbing between his middle and ring finger, causing nerve damage and a loss of almost all feeling in the palm of his hand, making it nearly impossible to catch balls. Coogler was able to only play in one game last season, and the injury kept him out until this past spring. Fortunately, the injury didn’t take any rehab, just a lot of rest and time to heal.

This season marks Coogler’s last chance at Sac State to win a Big Sky Conference championship, an aspiration he lists as the team’s biggest goal this season.

“Coach Sperbeck always says to just take it one play at a time. He says for us to focus on ourselves instead of the other team. If we do that and play our game, we’ll do well,” Coogler said.

He attests the drastic change in attitude this season to the coaches and the energy they provide. If things aren’t going well, the coaches will stop practice and talk to players and even reprimand the entire team if necessary. Coogler insists that this season is different because of the level of effort Coach Sperbeck and the staff requires of each player.

“It’s going to be tough for other teams to match our effort this season,” Coogler said.

The Hornets next opponent is Portland State, winner of seven straight head-to-head matchups vs. Sac State. It is a year of streaks that the Hornets would like to break.

“It’s a chance for us to do something special, no question,” Coogler said. “At the same time, we just need to keep it simple and not blow the game out of proportion.”

Coogler is a two-time Big Sky Conference All-Academic selection, and in 2005 he was named the team offensive MVP. This season is an opportunity for Coogler to further improve on that excellent season and lead the Hornets to an surprising Big Sky title.

Part of Coogler’s determination and heart on the field can be attributed to watching tapes of former Bears Hall of Fame linebacker Mike Singletary.

“I played linebacker in Pop Warner, and my dad would always show me films of Mike Singletary and just how hard he worked. I always heard stories about him and have looked up to him ever since,” he said.

On the offensive side of the ball, Coogler’s favorite player is Reggie Wayne. Coogler watches and studies tape of Wayne as well as Hines Ward and Steve Smith, especially for their excellent blocking.

“I take a lot of pride in my blocking,” Coogler said. “I just give maximum effort in whatever I’m doing – I do whatever coaches want me to do.”

Coogler cites his biggest inspiration is his family, namely his parents and little brothers.

“Growing up in Richmond, my parents always worked hard to make sure I was in good situations and to make sure I didn’t fall to the wayside like so many other young men. Now I want to set a good example for my younger brothers; that’s really important to me,” he said.

Coogler’s father works as a probation officer and counselor at juvenile hall in San Francisco. Growing up, he would take Ryan to talk to young men who were incarcerated to keep him grounded and to stay on track.

Coogler has never forgotten that and lives by making good decisions on and off the field.

“I try and think about my parents and little brothers when I make a decision and how it will affect them. I just try to be responsible and be a good Christian,” he said.

His biggest inspiration on the team is senior defensive back Roc Green. Coogler feels he relates to him the most, and really just got to know him recently. Green lost his brother a few years ago in a car accident and has been through some rough times.

“Playing together with a dude that has been through something so traumatic and works extremely hard has really motivated me to work even harder,” Coogler said.

Green said at one point he was almost homeless and Coogler took him in and let him stay at his house.

“If anyone on the team has a problem, they can go to him for advice,” Green said. “He’s family oriented and sticks by his morals. He’s never contradictory – he sticks by his words. Coaches, players and teachers love him.”

Coogler says he doesn’t know what he would do if he lost a brother and he feels that Green is an incredibly strong individual for continuing on after what happened. Together, these men have helped each other to succeed and push each other in life and in football.

“He took me under his wing,” Green said. “That’s what being a true leader is all about. He’s like a brother to me. He really helped me out in need. He’s one of the best people I’ve ever met.”

Besides football, Coogler’s other passion is film – mainly writing screenplays and directing. He has already made one film while at Sac State. He said his favorite director is Spike Lee and is inspired by the fact he was the first black director to make mainstream films that very accurately portray the struggle of being black in America.

“If it wasn’t for him, I wouldn’t have a chance to do what I want to do now,” Coogler said.

If for some reason he doesn’t get into USC film school, he plans to go and work with his dad counseling young men who are incarcerated.

As for the rest of the season, Coogler feels the first game against Fresno State was a step in the right direction. He explains that the offensive unit is a young group, but if they can put together better drives, it will only add to what a great defense the Hornets have.

“This week we need to score an offensive touchdown and move the ball more consistently,” Coogler said. “We have a lot of work to do, but if we put all of our talent together, we can open up to our potential and have a lot of success.”

Green put it best, representing what both of these men and the team are about: “We gotta work hard. As long as all of us come to play, we understand what it takes to win a game.”