For Ben Cooper, it truly has been better late than never. He hasn’t been on the county boys weightlifting scene long, yet he has managed to make sizable impact. On Wednesday March 9 at the Springstead gym, the Central senior captured first place at 119 pounds in the Hernando County Championship Meet, with a 180-pound bench press and 120 clean-and-jerk for a 300 total.
That made Cooper a repeat county champion, with only heavyweight teammate Travon Lincoln sharing that distinction on the day. “I did pretty good. I totaled 300 for the first time. But it’s definitely not what I want,” Cooper said. “By the time districts comes around I want to be totaling 330 so I can win regionals. I really just want to experience states. I know I don’t have anywhere close to the numbers to win... Both years (at the county meet) were sort of close, but yeah it feels good. I don’t want county to be my biggest achievement, though.”
Last season, Cooper posted a 160-110—270 at 199 to win by 30 pounds. This time around, Weeki Wachee’s Antonio Molina was 10 pounds behind with a 160-130—290. Regardless, winning back-to-back county titles is a nice accomplishment for a lifter who only joined the Bears as a junior. “Ben was a kid who came to me and he was a kid who just kind of lifted for leisure,” Central head coach Chris Sands said. “He worked really, really hard last year and was able to take first in the county.
“If he started a little earlier, it would have been easier for him to get his technique down. But he has worked really hard to get where he’s at today and his hard work has paid off with two county championships two years in a row in the only two years he has competed.” Cooper admittedly wishes he had formally started sooner, understanding the impact it could have had on his performance.
“If I would have started in freshman year, my clean-and-jerk would be better. I don’t know how my bench would be, because at 119 you can only get so much mass to lift. I feel like I’d be totaling about 350-360,” Cooper said. “I was already lifting a lot, so I just decided, ‘Oh, weightlifting team, more time to work out.’
“It was definitely my bench press that took me all the way. Because before I even got into this, I was doing about 155, and last year just that was basically beating all the other 119s. So just the bench really, having a strong chest genetically.”
Having never competed in any other sport at the high school level, Cooper said he has generally enjoyed his time with the Bears. But there is one significant part he could do without.
“I hate clean-and-jerks,” Cooper said. “I absolutely hate them, and once this is over this year I’ll never do them again.”
He hopes to extend the season beyond the Class 1A, District 11 Meet on March 22 at South Sumter, setting himself up to reach his regional goal. “He’s going to be close,” Sands said. “I think at districts he should be fine. I think he needs to work on his power cleans. He can compete with the top state lifters with his bench. He needs to work on his power clean. If he does that, he has a really good shot to take that crown at regionals. He needs to take it one step at a time.”
Ideally, he wants to end up at the FHSAA Finals, providing a satisfying ending to his brief prep weightlifting career. “I’m very motivated. This is my last year. I have to win (regionals) or I’d sort of feel like this whole year is a waste,” Cooper said. “I just definitely want to go to states. I want to be able to say I was a state contender. Going up against the top 12 or 13 kids in the state, that’d be cool.”
Follow Chris Bernhardt Jr. on Twitter @cpbernhardtjr.