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August 19, 2013
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After missing all of spring practice rehabbing an ACL injury suffered during Outback Bowl mini-camp, perhaps no one on South Carolina's roster wanted to take the field for the season opener against North Carolina more than Cedrick Cooper. But after dislocating his left elbow two weeks ago, Cooper, who was expected to step onto the Williams-Brice Stadium turf on Aug. 29 as the starter at Will linebacker, may not suit up against the Tar Heels at all.
Cooper said his elbow is still getting better, but with just nine days between the Gamecocks and their season opener, he is nervous that he might not be back to 100 percent in time to play.
"It's a slow process, I'm not trying to rush things," said a clearly frustrated Cooper. "I don't want to mess around and get on the field and end up hurting it again. I'm just going to take it day by day."
The redshirt sophomore from Lithonia, Ga., was out of his cast after the practice, revealing a visibly swollen left arm. Cooper hasn't begun practicing on the field with the rest of the team, but instead has worked on strength and conditioning on the sidelines. Cooper, who played in 11 games last season, has grown sick of his sideline view of the action.
"I hate watching," Cooper said. "I just got done watching coming from an ACL. Now it's a freaking elbow, so it's hard watching, but I can't control it. I've just got to keep doing my rehab and pray and make sure I come back healthy."
Cooper recovered beautifully from the ACL injury he suffered before the Outback Bowl, saying recently he sometimes forgets the injury and ensuing surgery ever even happened. Not surprisingly, Cooper is frustrated that his elbow hasn't recovered just as easily, but he said he is keeping a level head and intends to make his way back onto the field one day at a time.
"God doesn't make mistakes," Cooper said. "Everything happens for a reason, so I'm just going to take this time to just focus on plays and get my mental reps until I get back on the field."
A former three-star prospect, Cooper was expected to take over as a vocal leader in the young linebacking corps this season, alongside Mike linebacker Kaiwan Lewis. If he can't recover in time to suit up against the Tar Heels, fellow redshirt sophomore Marcquis Roberts should get the starting nod, with freshman Skai Moore rotating in for a few reps as well.
Neither have played a down of a college game, but Cooper said the young linebackers have caught on quickly in practice under coach Botkin's guidance. Both Cooper and Botkin expect the freshma1n linebackers to play right away.
Though many pundits label the linebacking corps as the team's weak link, Cooper won't feel the pressure to prove them wrong when he returns to the field.
"If anything, we have to prove it to ourselves first," Cooper said. "If you don't have confidence in yourself, no one else will. So, the one thing we want to focus on now is ignoring what everyone else is saying and focus on our job first. Because once we get our job intact, then we'll be fine."
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