The bright lights of the Southeastern Conference have made the league the ultimate stage in college football.
Often the best players in the nation flock to its 12 member institutions, hoping they'll someday get their moment in the limelight. But the chance at stardom isn't enough for every recruit.
Darlington tailback-safety Dominique Cooper may be among them.
A standout on both sides of the ball, the 6-foot-1, 195-pounder has offers from South Carolina and East Carolina and two FCS schools, S.C. State and North Carolina Central.
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However, the Gamecocks are recruiting him strictly as a safety, and that may not be enough to gain his services. He has maintained throughout the process that he would prefer to play tailback at the next level.
"His heart is playing running back," Darlington coach Justin Danner said. "He's looking for an opportunity to play running back. I think he does like the University of South Carolina, but for him right now, it's a tough decision. He's got to do what he's got to do to be happy. If that means finding a school that wants him as a tailback first, he's going to have to make that decision."
Some might construe Cooper's interest in playing tailback as selfishness, but Danner said the senior, who finished his prep career with a loss to Hartsville on Friday, is a team-first player. Since Cooper's heart is a tailback, he knows he'd ultimately become a better player if he was lining up in the offensive backfield, his coach said.
"He's a team guy," Danner said. "He's a kid that just wants to be on a team where he'll be accepted and be able to do well for them. I think every kid would want to play in front of those multitudes [of fans in the SEC], but for him it's not everything. Happiness is what he is looking for."
Cooper will likely make one set of coaches happy wherever he ends up. He had rushed for more than 900 yards and 10 touchdowns — his production suffered on a team that finished 1-9 — heading into Friday's season finale. He also doubled as a strong safety for the Falcons, who play in football-tough Region VI-AAA.
There are some who believe Cooper best fits on offense. Others believe he could develop into a solid strong safety or a fifth defensive back (think USC's "Spur"). He has the potential to gain weight and could play at 215 to 220 pounds.
On offense, he's more a downhill, power back. He is able to outmuscle many prep defenders, though he may not have the straight-line speed to turn the corner in college. Cooper is a coachable player who has the ability to fit well into the zone blocking schemes that so many colleges are running these days, Danner said. Darlington runs the Wing-T.
"He's a downhill runner," Danner said. "He does a good job of making that one cut when he needs to, so I think he can transition to the zone from a Wing-T offense. I think he'll do a good job."
And what if he ends up playing defense in college?
"He's probably going to be better closer to the line of scrimmage versus being farther away from the football," Danner said. "That's primarily because that's what he has done for us. He'll work very hard to make that next step."
Cooper likely won't take the next step in recruiting for another few weeks. He is planning visits and wants to assess his options before choosing a school. He does not claim a favorite school at this point, though he does have a favorite position.
"I would rather play on offense," Cooper told The State last month. "But I like playing safety, too."