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September 10, 2013
Sophomore Will linebacker Cedrick Cooper didn't play last Saturday against Georgia. He didn't play nearly three weeks ago in South Carolina's season opener against North Carolina. Or against Michigan eight months before that, after a torn ACL in Outback Bowl mini-camp cut short his redshirt freshman season.
It's fair to expect by now Cooper would be used to watching from the sidelines, but after practice Tuesday he continued to emanate the quiet optimism and determination possessed by few defeatists.
Five weeks after dislocating his left elbow in fall camp, Cooper still doesn't know if his return to the field will come Saturday against Vanderbilt, or if he'll have to watch from the sideline as his teammates play another game without him.
"I don't have a guaranteed answer," said Cooper after practice. "As long as I do my job and as long as I practice hard and make sure I got my assignments, there's a possibility I'll get back on the field."
Cooper wears a new custom-made elbow brace nowadays - the same model former NFL linebacker Ray Lewis wore during the Baltimore Ravens' Super Bowl run last season. He says he can move well in it and that it doesn't affect his ability to tackle, but that it's designed to stop his arm from completely extending. Cooper is also wearing a brace over the knee that was injured before the Outback Bowl.
"I'm like half bionic," Cooper said, glancing down the left side of his body.
Watching from the sideline last week as South Carolina's defense was gashed for 229 yards rushing was especially difficult for the Lithonia, Ga., native. Having played in 11 games last season, Cooper was one of the more experienced linebackers heading into fall camp and was expected to start at the Will linebacker position. But he stood idly by as his replacements and their field mates were stumped mentally and physically by the Bulldogs.
"We just had minor mistakes, little mental mistakes and stuff," Cooper said. "We planned the right way. I guess we just got a little jumbled in the head out there due to the surroundings."
Cooper said he saw several of the young linebacker missing assignments and trying to do too much.
"You've got to do your job before you try to do the other man's job," Cooper said. "As long as you do your assignment, then all the pieces will fall. It'll be somebody fitting here, but somebody didn't fit there, and that open area - the running back will run through that."
As would anyone in his situation, Cooper said Tuesday he wished he hadn't gotten hurt in training camp, when the team was learning valuable material at a quick pace. But he continues to practice in full pads with the team during the week with hopes of seeing the field against the Commodores.
The former three-star prospect out of Lithonia High School said he isn't going to rush anything, but he wants to make an immediate impact when he does get his opportunity.
"I know when I get out there, as long as I do something, I'll be alright," said Cooper.
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