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March 28, 2014

Cooper juggles multiple roles




Try to keep track of Pharoh Cooper during one of South Carolina's practices this spring, and you'll quickly find you have to keep your head on a swivel.

One play, he's snagging a high pass on a slant pattern as the team's starting slot receiver. The next, he's faking a handoff out of the Wildcat, tucking the ball under his arm and cutting upfield through the heart of the defense for a six-yard gain.

If you can't find him amongst the horde of players looking to impress their coaches in offense-defense drills, look to the sideline, where he's probably waiting to return a punt.

What might seem a heavy workload to some is just another day in practice for Cooper, a sophomore who stars as a receiver, kick returner, punt returner and Wildcat quarterback for the Gamecocks.

"You just know you don't really have a break," Cooper said with a smile after practice Thursday afternoon.

Cooper, who earned an SEC All-Freshman team selection as an all-purpose player and return specialist last season, says he enjoys juggling his four roles. For the former four-star prospect from Havelock, N.C., it's nothing new.

Cooper played both ways and returned kicks and punts at Havelock High School, where he won back-to-back 3A state championships in his junior and senior seasons with the Rams. Cooper also averaged 11.7 points per game as a senior on Havelock's basketball team and batted .325 for the Rams' baseball team.

Cooper enrolled at South Carolina as a cornerback but switched over to the offense during fall camp. He would finish third on the team with 655 all-purpose yards last season.

The sophomore attributes his quick transition to the college game to "coming in with that mentality to be the best on the field, play with confidence and just go out there to do the thing."

Cooper said switching to offense was one of the best decisions he's ever made, and receivers coach Steve Spurrier Jr. is just as thankful for the move.

"He's done well. He's a smart kid. He's really, really a likable, coachable young man," Spurrier Jr. said. "Some of the things he did at quarterback I thought were really impressive for a freshman last year."

Cooper rushed for 202 yards and a touchdown as the Wildcat quarterback last season. But his brightest moment at the position came when he tossed a 26-yard touchdown pass to Brandon Wilds with 3:44 left in the game against Clemson, pushing USC's lead to 31-17 and driving the final nail into the Tigers' coffin.

And Cooper expects his role as the Wildcat quarterback to expand now that fleet-footed quarterback Connor Shaw has graduated. Cooper said he'd love to get anywhere from 10 to 12 Wildcat snaps per game next season, but he realizes he's more likely to get two or three.

That's fine by Cooper, who says he just wants to do what he can to help the Gamecocks win.

"Any opportunity that I get - if I'm at Wildcat and he tells me I'm going to get two carries, I'm going to make the most of it," Cooper said.

Now listed on ESPN.com as one of Edward Aschoff's five "SEC East breakout players for the spring," Cooper says he's also focused this spring on working to solidify his new role as one of the team's three starting receivers alongside Shaq Roland and Damiere Byrd.

"When Bruce (Ellington) left for the league, that kind of got my head straight," said Cooper, who caught three passes for 53 yards last season. "I have a chance to have an opportunity to start at that slot position. Coming into spring ball, I really just want to work my tail off.

"I got the starting spot, and I just want to keep it right now."

Spurrier Jr. praised Cooper's maturity and ability to handle every challenge the coaches have given him, expressing confidence in the 5-foot-11, 200-pounder despite his limited experience as a receiver.

"I expect him to be a good receiver," Spurrier Jr. said, citing Cooper's strength, toughness, intelligence and hands. "He'll be a good player for us."

Cooper hopes to be known as one of the SEC's best players by the end of the 2014 season. But for now, one of USC's brightest young stars can appreciate how far he's come in one year and how much he has to offer going forward.

"I'm just blessed to be a sophomore and have all these opportunities to help the team out," he said.

More content from GamecockCentral.com:

The Insider Report has more on USC's involvement with a 5-star RB, defensive back recruiting, and a trio of d-linemen from Georgia that like USC (subscribers only)



Thursday's football practice report - Spurrier talks backup quarterback situation, more in-depth notes (subscribers only)








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