When Legacy’s Cooper Stephens looked back on his three consecutive game-winners from this last postseason, the one against Broomfield obviously stood out.
“We’ve always been rivals, we’ve always been neck-and-neck,” he explained. “Every time we beat them, it feels like we’ve won something a lot greater than just a game.”
In that moment he’d risen to something greater, too.
His golden kick to oust its decorated crosstown rival for the first time in the postseason sent fans rushing onto the field that night at North Stadium. They’d come to prop up the school’s latest big man on campus.
Needing a double-take, a crowded stadium watched as his winner in the 109th minute appeared to be headed wide only to flutter into the short side of the net. It stuck past the keeper, fitting inside a window that couldn’t have had too much extra room for clearance.
The moment alone was something for Legacy lore. Combine that with the winner a round earlier against Ralston Valley, and the one that came next versus Denver East, it’s one of the top postseason performances in recent state history. And inside LHS, it won’t soon be forgotten.
“Truly remarkable,” Legacy coach Tony Romano said of Stephens. “The literal difference-maker.”
With it, Stephens — named the 2021 BoCoPreps.com player of the year — had surpassed former program-great and current Canadian national team member Tajon Buchanan for most goals in a season with 23.
His goals were the most in Class 5A by an area player and was third in the classification, one spot and two goals ahead of Boulder’s Calvin Pielke. His final three had taken the Lightning closer to a state title than ever before.
The first-round winner against Ralston Valley snapped Stephens’ two-game scoreless streak and it carried into scoring in his 13th and 14th game of the season over the next two rounds.
His streak ended, as did Legacy’s, to eventual champ Grandview, which scored the lone goal with 1:41 remaining in the semifinals at the University of Denver.
“We all knew that reaching the semifinals wasn’t the best we could do, so obviously it was disappointing,” Stephens said. “But I think we’re all deep down pretty excited and felt very accomplished that we had made it the farthest in program history.”
With some time passed, the longest standing area team in 5A had still pulled off something special in the fall. They’d beaten local foes Boulder, Broomfield and Monarch in the regular season, tied with defending champ Fairview, then wrestled through nail-biters in each of the first three rounds of the postseason.
Front and center in the biggest and most pressurized moments was usually Stephens. His ability to finish in the clutch had been a realization of what the junior had been doing in the quiet.
“He’s the kind of kid who holds himself to a high standard, which is wonderful,” Romano said. “He’s the kind of kid who gets frustrated with himself when he’s not performing at a level he knows he can and should be able to do. And then he holds himself accountable, meaning he’d tell me, ‘Hey coach, this weekend I went out to the local park and spent a couple hours on my shooting.'”
During these sessions, Stephens said he’d convince someone to join him at a nearby field. They’d send him a variety of set-up passes and he’d try to finish them cleanly. And when it was just him, he would set up cones playing as obstacles. Around and through them, he said he’d rip chances from different distances and angles.
“And that’s the kind of thing that a lot of kids don’t understand. They want to know what makes that kid so special,” Romano said. “Well one of the things that makes that kid so special is that he is willing to put in the extra time, energy and effort. In a case like Cooper’s, he’s always looking for that extra opportunity to practice his craft.”
Stephens transitioned from high school to club immediately after the season. Last week, he attended a tournament in Arizona.
He is eligible to return to Legacy for his senior season next fall.