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CCC star goes with Gators

Riley Cooper's commitment gives Florida one of the nation's top recruiting classes.

By CHRIS GIRANDOLA
Published December 18, 2005

After three years of being hounded by college coaches around the nation, the wait is over.

Riley Cooper is headed to Gainesville.

The Clearwater Central Catholic wide receiver and free safety orally committed to the University of Florida on Saturday.

Cooper chose Florida over Tennessee, Southern California and Oklahoma State, where his dad, Larry, played collegiate baseball.

"It was just the overall best fit," said Cooper, who also is ranked the second-best baseball player in the country by Baseball America. "It gives me a chance to play both baseball and football and to be close to home. Coach (Urban) Meyer also is the type of coach I can't wait to play for. He tells it like it is and his type of offense (with three to five wide receivers used at a time) is perfect for me."

And, according to all the chatter on the Gator message boards, the Florida faithful will have their "Randy Moss" type of receiver. Or another quality defensive back to go with their solid recruits from a year ago. Or both.

"He projects to be able to play at several positions, although, because of Florida's need at receiver, he can probably step right in next year and compete at that spot," said Mark Wheeler, one of the leading recruiting analysts for Rivals.com.

"He has it all. He's 6-4, 205, can run the 40 in 4.37, can jump. He's got the size, the speed, the smarts and the potential to get even better, which is pretty scary, considering his athletic ability already."

Either way, with the addition of Cooper and Tim Tebow, widely considered the top prep quarterback in the country, Meyer's recruiting class jumps to tops in the nation, according to rivals.com. Cooper recently was ranked as the sixth-best athlete in the country and sixth-best player in the state by Rivals.

"Cooper's as impressive as anyone in the country," said Wheeler, who also reports for gatorbait.net. "He's another piece in the puzzle for Meyer and, with (junior wide receiver) Chad Jackson expected to turn pro, he's a real gem."

Cooper, also ranked the 92nd best player in the country, started gaining national attention two years ago. Last season, the two-time first-team all-state wide receiver and free safety put up record-breaking numbers for punt and kickoff returns. This year, Cooper, who also punted for the Marauders, had 34 catches for 572 yards and seven touchdowns while leading CCC to a 12-3 record and its first appearance in the state semifinals.

On defense, he recorded 103 tackles and had five interceptions, adding to the 15 from the past two years. He also returned three balls for touchdowns.

Earlier this week, Tebow made an oral commitment soon after leading Ponte Vedra Beach Nease to the Class 4A championship over two-time defending champion Armwood. Then Jermaine Cunningham, a 6-foot-4, 215-pound defensive end from Stephenson High in Stone Mountain, Ga., made his announcement on ESPN-U. Cunningham, who had 25 sacks his senior season and is rated the No. 5 weakside defensive end in the nation by Rivals, picked the Gators over Auburn and Tennessee.

[Last modified December 18, 2005, 01:02:23]


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