Two-way football recruit may have eyes on two sports


Published: Wednesday, January 11, 2006 at 12:37 p.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, January 11, 2006 at 12:37 p.m.

Sometimes stats lie. A player may be mistimed or miss-measured, and disappoints those looking forward to seeing or playing with him. Sometimes 6-foot-4 is a couple inches too tall. Sometimes a 4.37 40-yard dash is really a 4.45.

Sometimes doesn't apply to Central Catholic High School (Clearwater, Fla.) safety/receiver Riley Cooper.

“Riley is all bit of his statistics,” said Central Catholic head football coach Michael Jalazo. "His numbers don't lie."

Cooper, who is one of the nations top football prospects, and a 2006 verbal commitment for the Florida Gators, is ranked as the sixth best athlete prospect by Rivals.com and the 16th best safety prospect by ESPN.com.

“He’s all physical on offense, defense and special teams,” Jalazo said. “People don’t realize that he is one of the best punters in Florida, too.”

Cooper has actually proven himself to be one of the best safeties and wide receivers in Florida.

As a safety at Central Catholic, Cooper finished the 2005 season third on his team in tackles, with 103, and pitched in five interceptions and 10 passes defended.

“ [Co-defensive coordinator] Charlie [Strong] would like to use him at safety too, but Riley will more than likely stay at receiver,” Jalazo said.

At receiver in 2005, Cooper caught 34 passes for 572 yards and seven touchdowns. He also scored three touchdowns on punt returns.

“His numbers don’t show how great he was on offense,” Jalazo said. “He was playing on a team with a 1,900-yard rusher and three receivers with more than 30 catches. He would have dominated had we not had such a great ground attack.”

If that sounds like a hype-him-up statement, just take Cooper out of the game of football, and he is still one of the best at what he does. He is one of the top-20 Major League Baseball high school prospects for the 2006 draft as well.

“He is such a good baseball player—one of Baseball America’s top center fielders—that we didn’t always get to work with him over summers,” Jalazo said. “We sort of lost him a bit that way, because being around the program is something.”

Since Cooper was not a full-time receiver and did not devote himself to football all year because of baseball, he will need to work on his techniques and route running to become a threat in the receiving unit.

Florida’s returning receiving core is extremely talented, with veterans Dallas Baker, Jemalle Cornelius and Andre Caldwell being joined by the 2005 of Nyan Boateng, David Nelson and Louis Murphy.

In order for Cooper to play early and not be red-shirted, he must wow coaches and learn the position and playbook fast.

“He needs to run more disciplined routes, because he can’t beat people with speed in college,” Jalazo said. “But I would be stunned if he was red-shirted. He physically looks like a senior in college.”

For a receiver to choose a school so loaded with talented veterans and young players alike is a rarity. But Cooper decided he fit in well with the University of Florida atmosphere.

“I would like to say he chose it because his head coach was a Gator, but he was looking for the best combination of academics, football and college experience, and UF gave that to him,” Jalazo said. “Having one of the best baseball teams in the country didn’t hurt either, because he’d like to play both sports.”

The Gators have not seen a player with the combination of speed and size that Cooper has maybe ever. He could be a dominant player for the Gators if given a chance, maybe in the mold of a Chris Doering and Reidel Anthony combination.

“Riley is a Randy Moss stretch-the-field type guy,” Jalazo said. “He can go over the middle like Reidel Anthony, maybe like a bigger and faster Reche Caldwell. Also like an Andre Caldwell with his blazing speed and good hands.”

Jalazo sings these high praises and comparisons for a player who played mostly safety in high school. But when a player has that combination of size, speed and smarts, he tends to get some people excited.

Even though he is a projected first round pick in the 2006 MLB Draft, Cooper will most likely bypass that opportunity to play football and possibly baseball for the Gators, Jalazo said. He will qualify for UF with a GPA above 3.0 and test scores over 940.

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