Oct. 1, 2014
By Brad Muller | More Features
Pharoh Cooper claims he doesn't get recognized very often on campus. He should be easy to identify though. All you have to do is look for the smile.
"I like to stay positive," Cooper said. "I've always got a smile on my face. I'm always laughing."
Opposing defenders aren't always so happy to see him. After earning SEC All-Freshman honors last year, he has become a go-to guy for the Gamecocks in his sophomore season and leads the team with 24 receptions through five games. Cooper caught, threw and rushed for a touchdown last year. This year, he's one of South Carolina's top targets at wide receiver, absorbing big hits as he catches passes over the middle, while also creating havoc when he takes a direct snap from center and runs with the ball in the "Wildcat" formation.
"We ask him to do a lot," said co-offensive coordinator and wide receivers coach Steve Spurrier Jr. "He can do a lot with the ball in his hands. He's the best blocker too. You don't worry about him. He is intelligent and has a great confidence that he can play. He wants the ball in his hands, and he can make plays. He just knows how to play the game. He doesn't get nervous or frustrated. He is very calm. Good personality. Good leader. Good smile."
"When he gets his hands on it, he is a very good player. We need to find ways to make sure he's running with it."
Cooper was all smiles after earning a game ball for his performance at Vanderbilt this year as he tallied 10 catches for 114 yards, both career highs, along with 74 yards rushing to help lead the Gamecocks to victory.
"It felt good," Cooper said. "It was a blessing to get a game ball."
It was the third time he had received the honor in his short career after also being awarded game balls for his performances against Clemson and Coastal Carolina last season. Not bad for a young man who came to South Carolina from Havelock, North Carolina, to play defensive back, but was pulled over to the offensive side of the ball last year by head coach Steve Spurrier.
"He's obviously pretty good back there," Spurrier said. "He was a little sore after the (Vanderbilt) game. Some of those catches he made were sensational. Guys were hitting him. He's a good player, and he's a wonderful young man. I asked him, `We're not using you too much, are we?' He said, `Coach, I'll be ready.' When he gets his hands on it, he is a very good player. We need to find ways to make sure he's running with it."
Cooper is accustomed to playing where he is needed the most as he played wide receiver for most of his high school career before playing quarterback during his senior year. In addition to the coaching staff, upperclassmen such as Bruce Ellington helped mentor him in learning the plays last year.
"Switching over ended up being a good thing for me and the team to try to help us win games," Cooper said. "We have a lot of goals as a team, but Individually, I haven't really set any goals. I just want to be a player who helps our team win games as much as I can."
His coaches can't help but have a little smile of their own when they talk about Cooper.
"I tell him he smiles too much," Spurrier Jr. joked. "He is very unselfish. He is just a strong young man who represents the program and himself very well."
Cooper is studying sports management, but hasn't locked in to what he wants to do with his life after his playing days are over. He still has a long way to go in his career, and his career day at Vanderbilt certainly stands out as one of his most memorable so far. Although he grew up in North Carolina, he knew plenty about the South Carolina and Clemson rivalry, which made his fourth quarter touchdown pass to Brandon Wilds in that meeting last year pretty special.
"That trick play we ran sort of sealed the game," Cooper said. "They're our state rival. The stadium was so loud."
So what does a budding young student-athlete like to do when he's not terrorizing defenses?
"I love ping-pong," Cooper said. "I go to the Strom (Thurmond Wellness and Fitness Facility) a lot to play ping-pong."
If ping-pong is your game, he'll be ready to play. Just look for the smile.
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