Pharoh Cooper emerges as South Carolina's newest playmaker
Everyone knew what South Carolina had at running back in Mike Davis this season. He was a proven commodity in the backfield. At quarterback, Dylan Thompson didn’t have the starting experience, but his passing ability nor his grip on the starting position were never in question.
But at the wide receiver position, it was a different story. The Gamecocks always seemed to have a playmaking wide receiver — Alshon Jeffery, Ace Sanders, Bruce Ellington, etc. — on their roster to bolster the passing game, but this year’s team lacked an immediate go-to option at the start of the 2014 season.
The departure of Ellington to the NFL and the failure of upperclassmen players like Damiere Byrd and Shaq Roland to step up over the course of the year have opened the door for another player to assume that No. 1 wide receiver role — sophomore Pharoh Cooper.
Cooper’s latest display came against the No. 5 ranked team in the nation, a game where he contributed in all three phases of the offense — receiving, passing and running. He hauled in seven receptions for 127 yards, carried the ball twice for 10 yards, completed a pass for 14 yards and scored two touchdowns.
Cooper earned SEC All-Freshman honors last season, but this year he’s stepped his game up to a whole other level and the coaches have taken notice.
“We ask him to do a lot,” co-offensive coordinator and wide receivers coach Steve Spurrier Jr. said. “He can do a lot with the ball in his hands. He’s the best blocker too. You don’t worry about him. He is intelligent and has a great confidence that he can play. He wants the ball in his hands, and he can make plays. He just knows how to play the game. He doesn’t get nervous or frustrated. He is very calm. Good personality. Good leader.”
His 40 receptions, 551 receiving yards and seven touchdowns lead the team by a wide margin, eight games into the season.
Ironically, being a dynamic wide receiver wasn’t the original plan for Cooper. When the 5-foot-11, 201-pound sophomore enrolled at South Carolina, he was recruited initially as a defensive back. But when head coach Steve Spurrier saw him in action, he switched Cooper over to the offensive side of the ball.
A year later, Cooper now leads all South Carolina receivers with 63 targets on the season, second in the SEC only to Alabama wide receiver Amari Cooper. He not only makes plays in the receiving game, but he’s often featured in the Wildcat formation or even in some trick plays, thanks to his background as a high school quarterback. And it’s no gimmick, either. Cooper has a cannon of an arm as evidenced by a deep ball that he overthrew fellow wide receiver Shaq Roland downfield against Auburn.
His obvious playmaking ability caused him to stick out early in his career, but it’s now pushing him toward becoming a full-blown star on the Gamecocks this season.
“He’s obviously pretty good back there,” Spurrier said in 2013. “When he gets his hands on it, he is a very good player. We need to find ways to make sure he’s running with it.”
Whether it’s at quarterback, running back, wide receiver or even his former defensive back position, it doesn’t matter where Cooper is playing on the field. As long as he has the ball in his hands, good things are likely to happen.