Wes Cooper is a numbers guy. So you’d expect that, like a tidy equation, his education (he’s a University of Georgia Terry College graduate) and past employment (he worked as an accountant and middle school math teacher) would add up to a career filled with balance sheets and calculators.
You’d be wrong.
Instead, as founder and CEO of Athensbased Southern Athlete, a strength-andconditioning operation geared toward high school athletes, Wes computes the angle that hips turn in a baseball swing, the increment of weight bench-pressed over the course of six months, or the distance covered in a sprint, down to the decimal point. “Numbers don’t lie,” he says, spoken like a true economics major. And yet, his bottom line for everyone is the same: “The goal is to pursue greatness and whatever form that takes, and it doesn’t have to be collegiate sports. Greatness is something that should be pervasive to life: to be a great student, teammate, brother, son. If they understand that and keep their head on straight, we’ve succeeded.”
His philosophy highlights a main difference between him and his competitors. “There are people out there who take people’s money, and the kids have no shot unless they dramatically improve,” he says. “The emphasis is athleticism but not character. The tragedy is too often kids can fall to the wayside because of bad decision-making.” That’s why Wes spends time with his clients between reps talking about their families and their goals. If they mention that they want to be an engineer, Wes connects them with an engineer for them to talk to or shadow. He says, “I want them to know that if they train three or four years and then decide not to play in college, that’s OK. As long as they follow their passion.”
After all, Wes’s passion, while always evident in his love of competitive sports, took a few different forms before he began Southern Athlete in 2012. After graduation from UGA, he moved back to his hometown of Augusta and worked at his parent’s accounting firm. During this time, he began working towards his master’s degree in education from Georgia Regents University and taught and coached in the Richmond County school system. “I’ve always looked for the potential in people and enjoyed helping them get to where they wanted to go,” he says.
It was while coaching at Richmond Academy that Wes began offering free training sessions on Sunday night. Every week, without fail, the same young football player would show up. They continued to work together over the summer, and by the next fall, Wes recalls, “you couldn’t not see the results on the field.” It was around this time that he began to seriously pursue forming his own business, filing for an LLC, determining a logo, and fine-tuning his brand to be sure it delivered his message, all while continuing to coach and finish his master’s. “I slept very little,” he jokes.
Five years later, his afternoons and evenings are spent training clients, while the rest of his day is spent editing highlight reels or brushing up on the ACT/SAT curriculum so that he can make sure he stays on top of — and shares — what schools are looking for. If all that wasn’t enough, he’s also part of a start-up software company, ICHOR, which gathers the data from wearable sports accessories (such as Fitbits) and creates a dashboard monitor for athletes looking for an analytical understanding of their workouts and progress. The online frontier is one Wes plans on crossing with Southern Athlete, as well. “I’d like to be able to do more online and remote training,” he says.
You get the sense that when Wes tells his clients to balance their big dreams with the reality of hard work, he’s speaking from experience. After all, the numbers don’t lie, and his success is the proof.