Akeem Cooperwood understands the privilege and pressure that come with playing in the SEC.
He also knows that expectations and the learning curve with being a junior college transfer make him different from the remainder of South Carolina’s 2016 signing class.
“Freshmen come in, they’ve got years to develop. Some coaches have patience with freshmen,” Cooperwood said. “But if you are coming from a junior college you don’t have that much time. You have to come in prepared and ready to replace what they need. That’s the only reason they come for a junior college person. They want them to come in and be able to start as soon as they get there.”
Cooperwood, a 6-foot-7, 359-pound offensive tackle from Georgia Military, has his sights set on making an immediate impact with the Gamecocks. Originally from Knoxville, Tenn., Cooperwood is wrapping up academic work at GMC and plans to enroll at USC for the July session.
He was a two-year starter at GMC and hasn’t redshirted, so he has three years to play two. With senior Mason Zandi penciled in at USC’s left tackle spot, Cooperwood believes he’ll be competing more at right tackle with sophomore Blake Camper and junior D.J. Park.
“He’s a guy that we’re expecting to come in and help us,” head coach Will Muschamp said. “He is a massive human being that has really good feet and good athleticism for someone that size.”
Cooperwood’s commitment remained intact through the transition from Steve Spurrier to Muschamp. The staff change-over did fuel some thinking on the lineman’s part, but he stuck with his pledge in large part because of the retention of offensive line coach Shawn Elliott.
“I’m excited just to go play in the SEC, the next level,” Cooperwood said. “I picked South Carolina because when I met Shawn Elliott, I felt some kind of way about him. That just made me want to commit as soon as possible. All the other schools that came by, I didn’t really feel that vibe with them. Shawn Elliott has a personality that you love. I want to be around him more and more.”
Cooperwood was a first-team National Junior College Athletic Association All-American as a sophomore and a second-team NJCAA All-American as a freshman. He was considered a three-star prospect, according to the 247Sports Composite rating that factors in all networks.
His GMC experience has helped him mature on and off the field, he said.
“I know how a defense lines up. I know when a defensive end or a linebacker are fixing to blitz,” he said. “In high school I just relied on my size to beat people. Now I’m mature and I rely on my size and my quickness and my hands to work more.”
Cooperwood is part of a four-man offensive line class that includes freshmen Sadarius Hutcherson, Pete Leota and Will Putnam. His junior college teammate, Dennis Daley, is a USC commitment for 2017.
He spent his final months at GMC focused on academics and staying in shape.
“I feel a little bit of pressure, but when I go there they’ll get me in the right state of mind,” Cooperwood said. “They’ll get me in the right shape. I’m kind of worried and then I’m not worried. They know what they’re doing. They’ll get me right.”