Florida's Cooper not done with football yet

August, 4, 2009
8/04/09
6:19
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low

It all seems to be going right for Florida's football team.

Riley Cooper, the lone returning starting receiver from last season's national championship team, will be back for his senior season after contemplating giving up football and focusing solely on his professional baseball career.

Cooper was taken in the 25th round of the Major League Baseball draft earlier this year by the Texas Rangers, but was able to agree to contract terms with the Rangers that would allow him to play his final season of football at Florida.

That's good news for the Gators, who were going to be extremely inexperienced at receiver. Cooper's return gives them somebody who's been there in crucial situations and delivered in the clutch. He had key receptions in both the SEC Championship Game and BCS National Championship Game last season.

"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," said Cooper, who spent his summer playing baseball. "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. I want to thank the Texas Rangers for allowing me to play my senior football season at Florida, the University of Florida and especially Coach (Urban) Meyer for all his patience and support during this process."

Meyer thinks Cooper can be a go-to guy for the Gators, who start preseason practice on Thursday.

"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."

There's not a Percy Harvin on this team, and Louis Murphy will be missed, too. But with Cooper back, the Gators' cast of receivers suddenly looks a lot better when you also throw in David Nelson, Deonte Thompson, Frankie Hammond Jr. and true freshman Andre Debose. Tight end Aaron Hernandez is one of the best in the country, and the Gators also plan to use Jeffery Demps some in a dual running back/receiver role similar how they used Harvin last season.

Cooper's roommate, quarterback Tim Tebow, was also glad to hear the news.

"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."

Chris Low | email

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