The future finds end zone

Published November 19, 2006

GAINESVILLE - Earlier in the season when he felt like he was practicing well and might get some playing time, Riley Cooper would call his family and friends and tell them to look for him whenever Florida played.

But by now the freshman receiver knows he's still got a lot to learn. So even though he practiced well this week, he didn't notify anybody he would have significant playing time.

Maybe he should have.

The former Clearwater Central Catholic High standout became the first freshman since 2000 to catch three touchdowns in a game, as No. 3 Florida defeated Western Carolina 62-0 in front of an announced crowd of 90,233 at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium on Saturday.

It was the most points Western Carolina 2-9 has given up since allowing Georgia Southern to score 70 in 1999, and the most Florida (10-1) has scored under second-year coach Urban Meyer.

And it was a nice glimpse of the future for Florida.

Of the Gators' nine touchdowns, seven were scored by freshmen. Backup quarterback Tim Tebow had touchdown runs of 20 and 1 yards, Brandon James had a 77-yard punt return and former Hillsborough High standout Jarred Fayson had an 8-yard touchdown run.

"Take a look at all of the young people that have played this year (15), and you can see Florida's future," Meyer said.

Cooper had a 7-yard reception from Chris Leak with 11:57 remaining in the second quarter, then caught touchdowns of 55 and 20 yards from Tebow.

"I did all right," the unassuming Cooper said. "I have to give credit to Chris and Tebow. Tim, both my touchdowns he hit me right on the money."

Cooper had two near-misses that caused him a little trouble, including a pass he dropped when he was open in the end zone.

"When I dropped that one in the end zone I threw up, then I got a penalty on the next play because I was throwing up, running around," he said. "I was a little nervous."

Florida amassed 582 yards of offense (282 passing) and held Western Carolina to 24 rushing yards and 35 passing.

Fayson, a former quarterback, was back at his old position. He played several series and, although he didn't throw a pass, he had seven carries for 77 yards, including a 27-yard run. Meyer said he was proud of Fayson because he has had to deal with several injuries this season, including a dislocated shoulder, hamstring and a knee injury two weeks ago.

"I played quarterback in high school, so I'm kind of fragile," Fayson said, joking.

He said getting into the end zone for the first time was indescribable.

"I can't explain it," he said. "Seriously, I don't know. I loved it. I didn't show a lot of emotion, but that's because I was so surprised. You hear a lot of people talk about scoring at the Swamp, but it's nothing like crossing that line yourself."

Meyer said he wanted to get a lot of players an opportunity to play, while trying not to embarrass UF's Division I-AA opponent out of the Southern Conference.

"In the fourth quarter it was very uncomfortable," he said when asked where the comfort level ended. "I've been on the other end of that. I talked to the coach before the game; he's a very classy guy. We certainly don't want to embarrass anybody. ... But we put guys in that would never play and they earned that right. ... At what expense? That's when you have to be very careful. But I think we handled it the right way."

Antonya English can be reached at (813) 226-3389 or english@sptimes.com.