Emanuel Cook likely has made his last tackle for South Carolina.
Cook, the Gamecocks’ leading tackler the past two seasons, is academically ineligible for the Outback Bowl and is expected to declare for the NFL draft, Gamecocks coach Steve Spurrier said Tuesday.
Cook, a strong safety, failed to pass the minimum six hours this semester that the NCAA requires for players to be eligible for a bowl game, Spurrier said.
“As we know right now he will not play in the game,” Spurrier said. “It’s disappointing that he did not think of his teammates or his university. It’s not hard to pass six hours. But he didn’t put much effort in, it appears. And that’s why he’s not playing. And it appears, right now, he’s played his last game.”
The news did not catch Spurrier completely off guard. After the Gamecocks lost to Clemson, Spurrier said it appeared several of the team’s draft prospects were more concerned about the NFL than the Clemson game.
And though Cook has maintained publicly that he had not yet made up his mind about the NFL, USC coaches have received strong indications in recent weeks that Cook planned to turn pro.
“He tossed it in midway through (the semester) from what I understand,” Spurrier said.
Spurrier expects Cook to be USC’s only academic casualty. But the loss is a big one.
Cook, a junior from Riviera Beach, Fla., made 92 tackles last season, including 77 solo stops. He had 87 tackles this season and was a second-team All-SEC selection by The Associated Press and the league’s coaches.
“It’s a big loss for us. It’s our leading tackler,” said Darian Stewart, who will shift from spur linebacker to take Cook’s spot at strong safety. “But I feel like we have young players that are going to come in and step up for us.”
“He just didn’t get it,” Stewart added. “It’s going to hurt us a lot. We just have to go out there and play.”
Former receiver Dion LeCorn is expected to replace Stewart at spur.
Cook attended the first part of Tuesday’s practice before being told to leave. He is one of five USC juniors who asked for an evaluation from the NFL’s advisory committee.
Attempts to reach Cook on Tuesday were unsuccessful. Following Saturday’s practice, Cook said he did not think Spurrier’s comments following the Clemson game were directed at him.
“I know I’m not thinking about the NFL right now. I’m thinking about finishing this season strong,” he said. “I’m still at the beginning of my (decision-making) process. I haven’t even really started yet.”
Spurrier said he doesn’t think Cook has signed with an agent. But Spurrier said he does not expect the 5-foot-10, 203-pound Cook to be back.
Many of USC’s players, including left tackle Jarriel King, did not learn about Cook’s status until after Tuesday’s practice.
“He’s a big factor to the team, no doubt,” King said. “I’m pretty sure I don’t have to go up to him and beat him with a stick and let him know, ‘Man, we needed you. You should have done this (or) that.’ He’s a grown man, and I know he understands it himself. And I know he wishes that he could have changed some things that he did.”
Reach Person at (803) 771-8496.