During my tenure at the University of South Carolina, the Gamecocks experienced some of the best years of football in the school’s history. While some fans might argue with this grand statement, the facts prevail. As a recent graduate, it was an honor to revisit my alma mater and meet with one of the new “greats” on the field.
After learning of Pharoh Cooper’s status as the SEC’s second-leading receiver in 2014, I wanted to know more. The statistics and facts are a great representation of Pharoh as a player, but who is he under the helmet? On a typical scorching summer day, Pharoh took time out of his busy pre-season schedule to sit down and tell me just who that is.
What is your favorite thing about being a Gamecock?
There is a lot. The city is beautiful. The campus is beautiful. The weather is great. The football team and my connection with all of the other guys. And just being a part of the community of the Gamecocks … we have the best fans. The stadium is rocking every Saturday.
What is a typical football Saturday like?
It’s awesome. The best part is leaving the hotel, getting on the bus and vibin’ with the music … and trying to get that Gamecock feeling once I get off the bus. That’s probably the best feeling — walking through all of the fans and getting ready for the game. Once the fans get going they can’t stop. When the crowd starts going crazy, that’s the best part.
Who is your favorite opposing team to play?
I like Georgia, Tennessee and Florida. Maybe Georgia though; that is always a really good game.
What’s your schedule during the summer?
We have workouts and go to class –– workouts are in the morning. Everyone has summer workouts because they’re mandatory. It’s Monday through Friday with Wednesdays off. The team gets together and works hard all summer.
Do you have any superstitions or rituals before a game?
No, not really. I just listen to my music, say a prayer and go from there.
What is your tattoo on your arm?
It is an athlete’s prayer. I have it memorized.
How do you manage school work, football and a social life?
It’s hard. During the season, we have classes from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. then straight to meetings and practice. Basically our whole day is from 8 a.m. to 6 or 7 p.m. There is really no time for a social life. If there is anything social, it’s just “hey what’s up? I gotta go.” It keeps me busy and keeps me out of trouble. But that’s what I like and what I came here to do — to get my education and play football.
How many times a day do people holler at you just walking from class to class?
During the season, probably three or four times a day. Even over the summer, probably once or twice a day.
What is the mood in the teamwork coming off of this past season?
Everyone knows that all eyes are on us. We have a different defense going around, and we’re young. The mood is to get better and continue to be a team — don’t fall apart. We need to get better from here.
How fast are you?
Fast [laughing]. I’m fast enough. I can’t remember the last time I got caught on the field.
What is your biggest personal highlight so far?
School wise, making academic honor roll the two years I’ve been here. Football, probably the Tennessee game. Personally, that game was one of my favorite highlights … and the bowl game.
Do you ever write down your goals?
I try to let them come to me. I set some goals before the year begins and then when the season’s over, I’ll start making goals to see where I’m at stats-wise. If I reach a goal, I’ll try to set another and beat it.
After the bowl game, you talked about leadership each year and how you’ve taken on that role. Is your role with the team different this year than this past year?
Oh yeah, it’s different. This past year, I was just a sophomore and one of the youngest receivers. But now that some of the older guys are gone, I had to be a leader with the other guys over the summer. That’s something I would like to work on … to become a better leader and help coach.
Is that something that comes naturally to you? Or is it difficult sometimes?
Sometimes it’s hard to be a leader. I’m not really a vocal leader, I’m more of a leader by example. Like with conditioning, I try to be the first during reps to show the older and younger guys what I’m trying to do to be the best. I’m trying to push the guys and be more of an example.
Have you found yourself being valuable for having a little more responsibility with players coming to you for advice?
Oh yeah! Some of the younger guys, the freshmen who are coming in and playing my position, ask me every week if we can get together to look at plays. I walk around helping the other guys who are looking at lineups and plays. They know if they have any questions they can come to me, and I’ll help them out.
When you first started playing football seriously early on in high school, and you began to see it as something you could do for a while, did you see yourself as a quarterback? What position did you see yourself in?
Safety was the first position they put me in. My dream was to play safety in college, but I knew I could be receiver and quarterback my senior year. I had a lot of good plays on offense and that’s when the coaches saw me for my offensive abilities. I played receiver and safety all through high school but senior year I was strictly quarterback. It was never a challenge to play different positions.
Did you play other sports in high school?
I played basketball and baseball. I am better at baseball than I am at basketball. When I got to middle school and high school, they put me in center field because I was the fastest guy out there. But growing up, I played shortstop. However, I was mostly focused on football in high school. It was a pretty big deal on Friday nights with all the stands packed.
Who are the biggest influences on you?
Both of my parents have always been there for me. My brother was there — and then he went into the military. My dad really exposed me to football and would throw with me in the backyard. He was also my flag football coach. From being my coach, my dad was able to see what type of player I was. From practice I would go home, and he could talk with me from a father-son standpoint. We could talk about anything. My brother always helped me, and my mom always encouraged me. All of them play a big role in my life.
What kind of role did your high school coaches play?
They played a big role. I had great high school coaches and learned a lot of good things from them. I had and still have a good connection with them and still talk with them.
Are you amazed that from playing safety in high school you have become an All-American offensive athlete?
I mean, a little bit. I always knew that I could play both positions; I just loved safety in high school. But playing offense, I was always comfortable with receiver. As for being named All-American, I never imagined anything like that.
Where does your name Pharoh come from?
My mom and dad always argue about it — who named me Pharoh. My mom says she named me; I think my dad named me though. My high school teachers would joke around singing, “Pharoh let my people go.” Strangers will often say, “I like your name.” It’s just a name though.
Who keeps you grounded?
I never really go crazy [laughing], but if ever I’m stressed or down, my parents and my brother ground me. I have an uncle who I talk to about football, too. During my freshman year, I called my mom a lot when I wasn’t playing those first five or six games. She really helps me stay focused.
Are you okay with being the face of this program?
Yeah, I don’t mind.
How do you and your teammates relax out of the limelight?
The guys and I play video games. FIFA is big on the team. Michael Scarnecchia is the best FIFA player on the team. He has the most wins overall. I don’t watch soccer so I just play it on video games.
What do you think of the team this year?
The defense looks a whole lot better. Receiver wise — we’ve got some speed out there, and some height. Quarterbacks are working hard. We look good is all I can say. I am confident going into 2015.
Going into the game on Sept. 3, is there any special significance about playing a school that gave you offers?
They are just like every other game, but I liked UNC before I got an offer from USC. I had a good feeling with their coaches so I kind of take that game personally. I’m ready for that game.