The next Michael Palmer?

CLEMSON - Sam Cooper could only wonder if he'd slide back into relative obscurity as a skill player when Clemson hired Chad Morris as offensive coordinator.

In high school, Cooper's opportunities to shine in the passing game were few and far between.

At Ensworth School in Nashville, Tenn., Cooper caught only a handful of passes since he was primarily used as a blocking tight end.

For most of his high school career, he helped clear paths for classmate Orleans Darkwa, who rushed for a team-high 925 yards and 11 touchdowns as a freshman at Tulane last season.

His path to Clemson was eerily similar to that of former Clemson tight end and now Atlanta Falcon Michael Palmer.

Neither was heavily recruited nor featured in their high school offense and both players arrived on campus with similar physical attributes.

"Our offense in high school was basically the power-I," Cooper said. "Run right, run left. It's very different [at Clemson], but very exciting."

It wasn't until he sat down one-on-one with Morris, that his concern about not being utilized - at all essentially - turned to excitement.

"I was wary, I guess you could say. But when I sat down with him—he met with every one of the offensive players—he definitely reassured me," Cooper said.

Morris frequently utilizes the tight end position, or what he calls the "3-back."

The 3-back is a hybrid position that asks a player to serve as a pass catcher, run and pass blocker and even as a rusher, though Cooper said he's yet to record a carry.

"It's a whole different ball game. It's a different position, but I'm definitely loving it…I'm definitely buying in," he said.

This spring, there were a host of more experienced players at the position in Dwayne Allen, Brandon Ford and Chad Diehl.

"We have different rotations and different formations. I'm just waiting to see where coach puts me," Cooper said. "I'm ready wherever coach needs me."

But Cooper had moments where he shined this spring. In the final stadium scrimmage before the Orange and White game, he even hauled in a touchdown pass.

With the arrival of four-star 2011 signee Eric MacLain scheduled for later this summer, Cooper has his work cut out for him. He's willing to put in the effort to fight his way up the depth chart.

"It's a new offense. You can't spend enough time watching film and going over plays," Cooper said.

He's already been at work for close to a year now. Cooper arrived to Clemson at 230. In the last week of spring practice, he was checking in at 240.

"Coming out here off of winter workouts I can definitely see strength gains," he said.

And who knows? Maybe it will be Cooper who breaks Palmer's single-season receptions record for Clemson tight ends somewhere down the line.

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