Before he left South Carolina for an ill-fated season at Southern Miss, defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson developed a coach-crush on linebacker Cedrick Cooper.
Johnson, who now is Auburns defensive coordinator, redshirted Cooper during his final season as a Gamecocks assistant, but not because he wasnt excited about Coopers potential. In fact, he raved about it.
When second-year South Carolina linebackers coach Kirk Botkin inherited Cooper, he could tell why.
Hes pretty now, Botkin said. Cooper is very physically gifted just in his appearance.
A 6-foot-2, 213-pound sophomore, Cooper is expected to be South Carolinas starting weakside linebacker this season as long as he can return quickly from a hyperextended left elbow suffered in Monday nights practice.
Hell be out three days, maybe a week, Botkin said. They are saying its not that bad. He said it felt pretty good.
Cooper who played in 11 games as a freshman, mostly on special teams was wearing his left arm in a sling at the conclusion of Mondays practice. He already has battled back from injury to get to this point. He tore his ACL in bowl practice in December, and the resulting surgery and recovery caused him to miss all of spring practice, but he came to fall camp 100 percent healthy.
He looks like hes moving better than he has, Botkin said. Cedrick has always been able to run straight ahead, but just the quickness and lateral movement, he looks better than I have seen him.
Feels better, too.
Sometimes I forget I even have the brace on, Cooper said. I dont want to let my injury hold me back, and I dont want people to think because I have had an injury that its going to hold me back.
Cooper, a Lithonia, Ga., native, is trying to hold off sophomore Marcquis Roberts, and freshman linebackers David Johnson, Skai Moore and Jonathan Walton, for the starting weakside linebacker job. He doesnt yet see himself as the starter despite his place atop the depth chart, he said.
We are battling for a position. I never want to put myself ahead of anyone. I can have a good day today and have a bad today tomorrow. It doesnt matter if I am first or second or fourth, I am going to do what I have to do to help my team.
Last season, Cooper had one tackle. In his final two seasons at Lithonia High, he had 198 stops, including 28 for loss, and he was considered a three-star prospect when he signed with the Gamecocks over Tennessee, Arkansas, North Carolina and Arkansas, among others.
I think Cedrick Cooper is really ready to contribute, coach Steve Spurrier said.
Added Botkin: Its going to be back and forth, but hes penciled in at one right now. Its going to be very competitive all through camp.
South Carolina wont play Johnson and the Tigers this season (barring an unexpected pairing in the SEC title game), so the Gamecocks former defensive boss wont get a chance to see firsthand if his predictions about Cooper come true, but theres a good chance hell be watching from afar.
He told me I had a good build, and I was coachable, Cooper said. Thats one thing I liked about me, I didnt talk back. Any question I had, I made sure I asked him. He really liked me.
There is a lot of that going around.