Pharoh Cooper Follows a Different Path to Becoming a Gamecock Star


In 2013, when Pharoh Cooper first arrived on campus in Columbia, he had plans of following the Gamecocks tradition of sending players at his position to the NFL.  I know what you’re thinking, but it was actually Stephon Gilmore whose lead it was that Pharoh wanted to follow.  He showed up as an athlete out of Havelock, NC and was aiming to make his impact as a defensive back, following the likes of Sheldon Brown, Andre Goodman, DJ Swearinger, Jonathon Joseph, Antonio Allen, and the a fore mentioned Gilmore and many others to the NFL.  That plan\ changed soon after Head Coach Steve Spurrier saw Cooper in fall practice, and quickly decided he wanted the play-maker on offense.

The bulk of his production his freshman year came either in the return game, or rushing the ball out of the Wildcat formation. He finished the year with 202 yards rushing and a combined 400 yards on punt and kickoff returns.  Pharoh also showed off his versatility, as a former high school QB, completing 2 of 3 pass attempts while taking snaps in the Wildcat, for 29 yards and a touchdown.  As a pure receiver though, he wasn’t able to breakout in his freshman season.  He had only 3 catches for 54 yards and 1 score.  The potential for big plays was certainly there, averaging 10 yards per rush, and 18 yards on his 3 catches.

With the team’s leading receiver, Bruce Ellington, leaving early for the NFL, Cooper’s role was bound to expand in his sophomore campaign, but with seniors Nick Jones and Damiere Byrd returning along with former SC Mr Football Shaq Roland, he wasn’t looked at to be the main man.  All that quickly changed as the season played out, and Pharoh quickly became a player the coaches and fans could rely upon to make both critical and big plays.  A responsibility he relished living up to.

He started the year modestly, with 11 catches for 130 yards and 2 TDs in the first three games of the year.  Then came the team’s trip to Nashville, and the first road game of the year against Vanderbilt.  Cooper broke out in a big way that night, with 10 grabs and 114 yards, plus 74 yards on the ground including a career long run of 70 out of the Wildcat.  Even with his team struggling to get wins, the sophomore sensation continued to put up big numbers, climbing up the SEC leader-board in yards and receptions.  After a three game stretch where he had 12 catches for 182 yards and 2 TDs, he broke out again for his second career 100 yard game in the shootout verses the Auburn Tigers.  Pharoh had two scores to go with his 7 catch 127 yard performance, and while it wasn’t enough to get the Gamecocks the victory, he was quickly establishing himself as one of the big time play-makers in the SEC.

While having already become South Carolina’s go-to receiver, it was the home game with Tennessee in which Cooper showed he was a legit star, with a versatile skill set that few in the country could match.  On a night where both teams racked up over 600+ yards of offense, he shined brightest, even during another tough loss for his team.  His 233 receiving yards on 11 catches broke former 1st round NFL pick Troy Williamson’s 10 year old mark of 210 yards in a game against South Florida.  As if breaking the single game receiving record wasn’t enough, Cooper added a 23 yards and a touchdown rushing, while also throwing a TD pass, accounting for four total scores on the evening.  It was only the second time a Gamecock player had thrown, ran, and caught a touchdown in the same game, matching QB Conner Shaw in the bowl victory over Wisconsin last year.

With defenses keying on him, Cooper didn’t have another 100 yard game to end the regular season, but he still made some big plays, with a 73 yard catch against South Alabama and a 20 yard scoring run in the rivalry game at Clemson.  Needing 34 yards in the bowl game to reach 1000, the sophomore sparked the Gamecock offense to life with a 78 yard touchdown grab during a 17 point second quarter.  He also made a spectacular catch late in the game to set up the game winning TD run by QB Dylan Thompson, and the Gamecocks held on to win 24-21 over the Miami Hurricanes.  He finished the game with 9 catches for 170 yards and a score, ending his season with 1136 yards receiving, the third highest single season total in USC history.  He also ran for 202 yards, and accounted for a total of 13 scores, including his 2 thru the air.

Best Seasons by a Wide Receiver in Gamecock History

YearPlayerCatches  Yards  Avg TDs
2010Alshon Jeffery   88  1517  17.2  9
2005Sidney Rice   70  1143  16.3 13
2014Pharoh Cooper   69  1136  16.5  9
1986Sterling Sharpe   74  1106  14.9 10

Having garnered multiple All-SEC  1st Team honors this season, Cooper will be looked at one of the best returning players in the conference, and may receive some dark horse Heisman or All-American consideration going in to the 2015 season.  That’s not bad for a kid who came to South Carolina hoping to follow in the line of defensive stars.