Cooper returns to Gators for senior year
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Florida receiver Riley Cooper, who has agreed to play baseball for the Texas Rangers, is returning for his senior season.
Gators coach Urban Meyer announced Cooper's decision Tuesday.
It was welcome news for Florida, whose biggest challenge this fall is replacing leading receivers Percy Harvin and Louis Murphy.
"He will be counted on heavily to be one of our go-to receivers," Meyer said. "I've said numerous times during the offseason that we need someone to step up with the departure of Percy Harvin and Louis Murphy. We haven't had someone step up yet, and Riley can certainly be someone that does."
Cooper started 12 games for the eventual national champions last season and caught 18 passes for 261 yards and three touchdowns. He has 30 career receptions for 535 yards and nine scores. He's also quarterback Tim Tebow's roommate.
But there was a real chance Cooper might spurn Florida for major league baseball. The Rangers drafted him in the 25th round in June's amateur baseball draft and spent part of the summer playing with the McKinney Marshals of the Texas Collegiate League.
Two weeks ago, Rangers personnel gave him a tour of The Ballpark in Arlington.
"It was a tough decision, one of the hardest I've ever had to make, but I'm excited about being part of the Texas Ranger organization and coming back and playing football for my final season," Cooper said. "More importantly, I'm looking forward to being around my Florida teammates and our Gator coaching staff.
"We have something special going on in Gainesville, and I want to be a part of that."
Cooper was initially drafted in the 15th round by the Philadelphia Phillies in 2006. But he chose to play football at Florida rather than pursue a baseball career.
Meyer allowed him to skip spring practice this year and join the baseball team. Cooper hit .247 with two home runs, eight RBIs and three stolen bases in 30 games. He also struck out 41 times in 89 at-bats.
"Riley is an extremely gifted athlete," Meyer said. "His speed, size and strength make him a tough matchup for defenses. Our whole offense is predicated on matchup problems for the defense and Riley certainly helps do that for us. He is a big-time playmaker.
"In all of my years of coaching, I don't know if I've ever coached a player that can compete at such a high level in football and baseball. He is a special talent."
NCAA rules allow student-athletes to be a professional in one sport while maintaining eligibility in another sport. Former Florida quarterback Doug Johnson played four years for the Gators after signing with and playing for the Tampa Bay Devil Rays.
Tebow applauded Cooper's decision.
"He has the ability to stretch the field and give us the ability to score from anywhere," Tebow said. "He has made a bunch of big plays for us, and I'm looking forward to hooking up with him for many more big plays."
Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press