Saturday’s game against Clemson will be more than just South Carolina’s final chance to salvage its season. It also will be the final chance Gamecock fans have to see wide receiver Pharoh Cooper wearing garnet and black.
Cooper, a junior, will forego his final year of eligibility and enter the 2016 NFL Draft, his father told The State on Tuesday. A native of Havelock, N.C., who signed with South Carolina in 2013, Cooper has been South Carolina’s most dynamic offensive weapon the last two years.
“He definitely appreciates the opportunity to play for South Carolina, and we as parents appreciate the opportunity they gave him,” Glen Cooper said Tuesday.
Pharoh Cooper’s decision, which was finalized last week, was based on his professional potential and not the coaching transition at South Carolina, his father said. Cooper, 5-foot-11, 207 pounds, is the Gamecocks leading receiver this season with 62 catches for 887 yards and seven touchdowns.
“He wants to ride the wave at its high point,” said Glen Cooper, who added his son did not want to risk potential injury by returning for his senior season.
Cooper was a first-team All-SEC wide receiver last season after catching 69 passes for 1,136 yards. That was the third-best receiving season in school history, and Cooper is fourth in school history with nine games of more than 100 yards receiving. If he can amass 113 receiving yards against the Tigers, he will become the only South Carolina player other than Sidney Rice to post multiple 1,000-yard receiving seasons.
“It will be an emotional day (Saturday) knowing that this is the last time he will be coming out of the tunnel at Willie B,” Glen Cooper said.
Cooper had a big game against Clemson as a freshman, returning a kickoff 55 yards and throwing a 26-yard touchdown pass to Brandon Wilds, but he was held to two catches for 45 yards by the Tigers last year.
“He is as good of a player as there is in the SEC and as good of a player as there is in the country,” Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said Tuesday.
Cooper has 134 catches and 2,077 receiving yards in his career, ranking ninth in school history in catches and eighth in yards headed into his final collegiate game. He set the school record for receiving yards in a game last year with 11 catches for 233 yards against Tennessee.
Cooper also has 523 rushing yards, 359 kickoff return yards, 172 punt return yards and 118 passing yards in his three-year career. He has accounted for 21.4 percent of the Gamecocks’ all-purpose yards in the last 24 games.
Cooper’s draft status is hard to project at this point in the process, Rotoworld.com NFL Draft analyst Josh Norris said.
“I think it’s pretty obvious that he’s talented,” Norris said. “It’s pretty amazing that he has produced as much as he has in that offense the past two years. I’m excited to watch him more. Everything I have watched I have liked, and that is difficult in a bad offense.”
If Cooper impresses scouts with his athleticism during the NFL Combine, he could be picked as high as the second round, Norris said.
“The discussion about all these wide receivers is going to be, ‘Can he be a one? Can be a two? Is he just a three?’,” Norris said. “There are only a dozen ones in the NFL so it’s not a knock to say that someone is not a one. He can absolutely be a piece of an NFL passing game.”
The Gamecocks will hold pregame senior day ceremonies Saturday, and interim head coach Shawn Elliott said Tuesday that some non-seniors might participate in the festivities, although Elliott would not name them.
Pharoh Cooper joins Sidney Rice, Sterling Sharpe and Kenny McKinley as Gamecocks with two of the top-10 single-season receiving totals in USC history.
1. Alshon Jeffery (2010);1,517
2. Sidney Rice (2005);1,143
3. Pharoh Cooper (2014);1,136
4. Sterling Sharpe (1986);1,106
5. Sidney Rice (2006);1,090
6. Kenny McKinley (2007);968
7. Sterling Sharpe (1987);915
8. Zola Davis (1995);911
9. Pharoh Cooper (2015);887
10. Kenny McKinley (2006);880