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Clearwater Central Catholic's versatile Riley Cooper is ranked the nation's 64th best player and sixth-best athlete by recruiting Web site rivals.com.
By BOB PUTNAM
Published June 14, 2005
With his combination of size (6 feet, 4 inches) and speed (4.37 in the 40), Riley Cooper receives his share of attention from defensive backs.
Now he is drawing it from the nation.
The Clearwater Central Catholic utility player has been named the 64th best player and sixth-best athlete in the country by rivals.com, a well-known recruiting Web site. He's also the highest-rated player in the Tampa Bay area.
"Riley has it all," said Jeremy Patterson, a rivals analyst. "He's very versatile and has the type of size and speed that's hard to find."
Highly adaptable athletes such as Cooper, who often are denoted by the shorthand ATH on recruiting Web sites and college coaches' whiteboards, are the hottest commodity in football.
Cooper is one of the more intriguing recruits because he can line up just about anywhere except the line. Colleges already are imagining the possibilities. Auburn and Notre Dame have him as the top receiver on their boards. Florida State wants him as a free safety.
"I haven't made up my mind on where I want to play," Cooper said. "But I want to be at a skill position. I don't want to bulk up to be a linebacker or tight end."
The buzz started last season when Cooper showed off his versatility. He used his 40-inch vertical leap to outleap and outmuscle defensive backs for 32 catches and 987 yards. He also has a knack for taking the ball from receivers with 15 interceptions the past two seasons.
But Cooper might be the most dangerous as a returner. He led the state with an average of 37 yards per punt return and 34 yards per kickoff return. That got the attention of recruiters who lined up this spring to sign him.
Cooper has offers from 25 schools, including Auburn, Florida, FSU, Miami, Notre Dame, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Southern California.
Recently the solicitations have become more personal. Gators coach Urban Meyer stopped by campus to watch him, as did Trojans coach Pete Carroll and Fighting Irish coach Charlie Weis.
Those who made the trek saw Cooper in limited action. He still was nursing a separated left shoulder, suffered in last season's region final loss to St. Petersburg Catholic.
Cooper was cleared to resume practice this spring, but coach Mike Jalazo decided to hold him out of the game as a precautionary measure.
"We didn't want to mess around with the injury," Jalazo said. "But the coaches still got to see enough of him."
To get Cooper, a school will have to allow him to be a two-sport athlete. A top-notch centerfielder, Cooper is playing this summer with the Florida Bombers, a travel team based in Miami. This weekend, Cooper will participate in a Perfect Games showcase at Turner Field in Atlanta.
"I don't think that should be a problem because he's not even considering a school that won't allow him to play both sports," Jalazo said. "Everyone has been cooperative with that."
Cooper is not the only big recruit of the Marauders. Lineman Kevin Young and receiver Colin McCarthy also are ranked among the state's top 100 by rivals.com.