With the regular season over and a sparkling 10-2 record in the books, Gamecock Central is counting down the five biggest surprise stars of this past season, players who very few, if any, would have picked to have the kind of big years they did.
Each day this week we're profiling a player leading up to Friday's No. 1. Let's have some fun!
No. 2 Pharoh Cooper
What can you say about a true freshman who is so good, he may just be the team's best receiver, rusher and possibly even quarterback.
He's the kind of dynamic talent South Carolina hasn't had since Syvelle Newton - a player who you can put at any offensive skill position, sit back and marvel at what they can do.
As a runner, he was unstoppable - Cooper rushed 18 times for 193 yards, an average of 10.7 yards per carry … almost five yards more per carry than Mike Davis (5.8). His long run of 71 yards on a touchdown against Coastal Carolina was spectacular.
As a passer, he's 2-for-3 for 29 yards and a touchdown, giving him a higher completion percentage than Connor Shaw (61.0) and Dylan Thompson (58.4). His fourth-quarter touchdown pass to put the Gamecocks ahead 31-17 and seal the Clemson win will be remembered forever.
As a receiver, Cooper caught three passes for 54 yards for an average of 18 yards per catch, just behind team leader Shaq Roland (18.1). His touchdown catch against Coastal Carolina was as athletic and impressive as any catch by a Gamecock this season.
As a kick returner, he got better as the season went along, capped by his 55-yard return against Clemson that set the Gamecocks up with first-and-10 at the Tigers' 45.
Not bad for a guy recruited to play defensive back.
Recruitniks knew the four-star Cooper was versatile and explosive - he played quarterback, running back, receiver and punt and kick returner in high school and was the offensive MVP of the Shrine Bowl for North Carolina. But predicting him to earn the trust of the coaches and have the kind of breakout season he did, especially down the stretch, well, it's fair to say about no one counted on him to be a go-to playmaker for 2013, but that's exactly what he became.
What's even better than that is all of a sudden the receiving corps for 2014 looks not just good but potentially amazing. With the resurgence of Roland late in the year, Cooper, Roland and Bruce Ellington give South Carolina three proven elite pass catchers, and when you throw in Damiere Byrd, Nick Jones and incoming four-star receiver Shaq Davidson, well, it's hard not to get excited.
In the meantime, take a moment to savor just how good Cooper is, how much of a recruiting steal he was for South Carolina and how many more headaches he's going to cause opposing defensive coordinators over the course of his long career.
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