COLUMBIA — Saturday will mark not only the final game of the season for Pharoh Cooper, but also the last game of his illustrious South Carolina career.
The junior wide receiver will leave a year early for the NFL after Saturday’s game against No. 1 Clemson, his mother Tanya confirmed Tuesday. Cooper leads the Gamecocks in receiving with 62 receptions for 887 yards and seven touchdowns, and ranks second in the SEC with 80.6 receiving yards per game.
Gamecocks interim head coach Shawn Elliott said Tuesday that some juniors could be honored along with seniors prior to Saturday’s noon game at Williams-Brice Stadium, but did not specify who. He said neither Cooper nor junior linebacker Skai Moore had spoken to him about potentially leaving a year early.
Asked about his plans following last week’s 23-22 loss to The Citadel, Cooper said he was focused only on the game ahead. “As far as the future, I’m just going to try to get ready for Clemson, and try and have a great week of practice, and come out and try to beat them,” he said.
But Cooper is clearly held in high regard by NFL draft analysts, many of whom have him projected as a top-three-round selection. ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. tweeted earlier this season that Cooper was among his three most underrated players likely to be available in the 2016 draft.
Cooper enjoyed a breakout sophomore season, earning first-team All-SEC honors after catching 69 passes for 1,136 yards and nine touchdowns, rushing for 200 yards and two touchdowns, and passing for 78 yards and two scores. In one game last season against Tennessee, he accounted for 286 total yards and four touchdowns — one passing, one rushing, and two receiving — in an effort which included a school-record 233 receiving yards.
While Cooper’s numbers have dipped this season as the Gamecocks (3-8) have faced offensive struggles, the Havelock, N.C., native is still capable of taking over a game. In the Citadel loss he finished with 11 receptions for 191 yards, including a 41-yard touchdown. Clemson (11-0) is well familiar with Cooper’s versatility, having given up a touchdown pass to the Gamecocks star last season.
“Probably the single most dynamic player that we’ll see all year,” Tigers defensive coordinator Brent Venables called him. “We’ve got great respect for him. What a workhorse, just a stud, great competitor, very highly skilled, but a real tough guy. He wears the toughness on his sleeve. I think if he had his way, he’d play defense, too. I love how he plays the game, and he does it in a very unassuming way. We’ve got a lot of respect for him and his playmaking ability.”