Big senior season made a king of Pharoh

Cooper likely will be returner, play defense at USC

dmclemore@thestate.comFebruary 4, 2013 

Pharoh Cooper is making a move on USC's depth chart.

BY DWAYNE MCLEMORE — GoGamecocks

  • PHAROH COOPER HT./WT: 6-0, 194 POSITION: Athlete/defensive back HIGH SCHOOL: Havelock (N.C.) High STATS: As a senior, led team to Class 3A state title with 2,948 passing yards and 26 touchdowns; also ran for 1,283 yards and 20 scores. Returned three punts and one interception for touchdowns. ACCOLADES: 2012 Shrine Bowl selection and game MVP for N.C. team. Participated in Offense-Defense All-American Bowl. BUZZ: Rated a four-star prospect by Rivals, he had offers from North Carolina, N.C. State and East Carolina.

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Pharoh Cooper shrugs off talk of a fourth star.

He cracks a smile when he hears his senior season accolades. More than 4,500 total yards and 50 touchdowns. Four positions. State championship. Shrine Bowl MVP.

Cooper credits his teammates’ role in his success.

Humble through and through, there’s no debating that the Havelock High (N.C.) athlete and South Carolina football commitment ended his high school career on a high note.

How high? Rivals national analyst Mike Farrell said Cooper could prove to be a difference maker in the Gamecocks’ 2013 class.

“He had a great run down the stretch, culminating in being arguably the best player at the Shrine Bowl,” Farrell said. “He’s one of those guys that really proved it his senior year. Sometimes those guys end up being your best players. The ones that peak early are the ones you’ve got to worry about. The ones that peak late oftentimes are just hitting their stride in terms of being a good football player.”

The 6-foot, 194-pound Cooper wasn’t highly rated in recruiting circles when South Carolina offered him in March. Scout gave him two stars. 247Sports had him with three. Rivals and ESPN didn’t have a rating for him.

He says he has never paid much attention to the stars — then, or now.

“I like being underrated and people not knowing about me,” he said.

Staying under the radar was the one thing Cooper didn’t do well as a senior.

He made the move to full-time quarterback and led Havelock to a second-straight Class 3A state title. He threw for 2,948 yards and 26 touchdowns and ran for 1,283 yards and 20 more scores. He also returned three punts for touchdowns — from 82, 67 and 37 yards.

Cooper played quarterback, receiver and punt returner in the Shrine Bowl, finishing with 243 yards, a touchdown and MVP honors.

“I knew he was a great athlete and that he was going to have a lot of success in our quarterback run series and the spread option attack,” said Havelock coach Jim Bob Bryant. “He’s got a strong arm, but I didn’t know he was blossom as well as he did as fast as he did as a passer.”

He’s likely headed for a future as a defensive back at South Carolina.

“Defense is more fun than offense,” Cooper said.

He did well there, too, playing safety in the playoffs and returning an interception 87 yards for a score in the state title game.

Cooper has a goal to start as a freshman at punt returner, a role that came open when Ace Sanders departed for the NFL. In addition to punt returner and defensive back, USC coaches have talked about giving him a chance to play wildcat quarterback, he said.

Cooper committed to the Gamecocks in May over offers from East Carolina and N.C. State. North Carolina made a late push for his services.

“I really think there are a lot of people kicking themselves right now for not recruiting this kid harder,” Bryant said. “I’ve told every college that came in that he’s the best overall football player from top to bottom that I’ve ever coached. He’s a winner. When the game is on the line, he wants the ball in his hands.”

Rivals awarded Cooper with a fourth star in late January. He was in class and learned the news when his phone kept vibrating from Twitter notifications. It was a nice honor, he admitted.

Cooper’s prowess with the ball in his hands played a big role in Rivals’ decision to bump him from a third to a fourth star, Farrell said.

“He’s not the fastest kid in the world or the biggest kid,” Farrell said. “He’s just a very good football player. I think he could be the next exciting guy at South Carolina.”

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