If the SEC had a category for Most Annoying Receiver, Riley Cooper would make every All-Opponents Team hands down. He could be a professional antagonist. To defensive backs, he is the equivalent of fingernails screeching down blackboards. Cooper is a throwback and an anomaly who loves to get into the heads of his opponents by agitating them.
If he’s not shoving his hands into the neck or face masks as he blocks the defensive backs, he’s cracking back on somebody – legally, or if necessary, illegally. He causes defensive backs so much angst that he puts them in his “Coop-A-Loop” state of mind. And who ever heard of a receiver who likes to block anyway?
His roommate, Tim Tebow, is all too familiar with the Coop-A-Loop.
“DBs (defensive backs) are going to get sick of it,” said Tebow. “And they’re going to get mad at him. I don’t think a lot of DBs look forward to going against him, to be honest with you. I think a lot of them get scared of seeing No. 11 line up across from them. And it has nothing to do with running routes and catching balls. It has a lot more to do with coming up there and pressing him and getting blocked by him. And that tenacity. And that’s what I love to see. That gets me going sometimes, too, seeing him out there blocking. And I appreciate how hard he goes.”
Cooper will do whatever it takes.
In Baton Rouge the week before, while scoring the game’s only touchdown, Cooper got behind the LSU defensive back by tugging his jersey, an infraction unnoticed by officials, and hauled in Tebow’s pass for a 24-yard score. By any means, Riley Cooper will find a way to beat you.
That’s the competitor in the 6-foot-3 senior from Clearwater Central Catholic, whose speed made him attractive enough to the Texas Rangers for them to sign him to a professional baseball contract. Cooper is fierce, and it is that ferocity which keeps him going when his bad feet pain him greatly. Or when he comes down with the flu as he did in the opening game Charleston Southern and kept jogging to the sideline to barf.
And it was that competitive spirit that brought Cooper back on the field in the second half against Arkansas last Saturday after suffering a hip-pointer, one of he nastiest of all injuries, to redeem himself for dropping a touchdown pass earlier thrown by his roommate.
Even though he wound up making clutch catches on the winning drive against Arkansas, Cooper didn’t forgive himself for dropping the pass from Tebow when he was wide open.
“That deep ball needs to be caught,” he said. “I kind of take pride in those deep balls. I’m kind of that guy – Deonte (Thompson) as well. But I’ve definitely got to come down with it.”
That’s why Cooper is one of Tebow’s two favorite targets. Between Coop and Aaron Hernandez last Saturday, they caught 13 of the 17 receptions – and nobody else caught more than one.
When they needed money players, Riley was ca-ching. Three times Tebow on the final drive when Tebow needed crucial yards, he went to his roommate. The most crucial of all was third-and-10 at the Arkansas 40 with less than 70 seconds remaining. As Cooper made his cut, he waived to Tebow to throw him the ball, but also lost his footing.
Razorback defender Ramon Broadway was almost in Cooper’s pocket, pressing him tightly as the senior wide receiver caught his balance, got up off the ground and dove back for the ball, scratching and clawing for possession.
Urban Meyer hates to think about what might have happened if Cooper hadn’t come back to play his senior year instead of leaving to play professional baseball.
“Thank God he came back,” Meyer said after the opening game of the year. “We’re struggling right now if we don’t have Coop.”
Already short of receivers in an offense that has lost some of its steam, Meyer has come to lean on No. 11 when the game is on the line as it was Saturday when Cooper caught three passes on the winning drive.
“There was no question where we were going to go in the fourth quarter,” Meyer said. “No question.”
Meyer loves the attitude of his four-year receiver. I asked Urban about what that Coop-A-Loop tenacity meant to his team.
“I think he’s one of the best,” Meyer said, “and I’ve been blessed to have some great receivers, personally. And it goes all the way back to seeing Cris Carter (Ohio State) when I was a graduate assistant. He (Cooper) is one of he best receivers we’ve ever had. Does he have 140 catches? No. He’s one of the best receivers, as we talk around here, as a football player. He’s one of the best receivers we’ve had, all-purpose. He wasn’t (originally). So that tells you the kind of football player he has become. He’s very serious about his approach to the game now.”
With 53 career catches for 12 TDs and 868 yards, Riley won’t go down in the record books as an all-timer. But you will never convince Tebow that his roomie’s fighting spirit isn’t a driving force.
”Flat out, he’s a competitor,” Tebow said. “He might not look the prettiest. And he might not look like the best-looking receiver. But he’s a warrior. He’s going to go out there and he’s going to fight. He’s going to block. And he’s going to hit you in the face. And he’s going to push you. And he’s going to keep fighting you.”
It may not be as powerful as The Promise, but Riley Cooper’s infectious tenacity has its place in the repertoire of the 2009 Florida Gators, who look very much on their way to Atlanta and maybe points beyond.
Thanks in no small measure to the agitation created by the Coop-A-Loop.