Cooper's back on track

CLEMSON - Sam Cooper was on track to take over for Brandon Ford as Clemson's starting tight end in the fall of 2013.

But the plan was derailed when Cooper tore both his ACL and meniscus in the first quarter of the spring game.

"That's tough news to swallow," Cooper said on Tuesday, during his first interview since the injury. "I gave myself -- really -- that night, to feel sorry for myself. The next day -- I can't approach it like that. I've got to focus on what I can do the next day to get on the field and help the team."

So, he went to work. Right by his side the entire way was Chad Kelly, who also suffered a torn ACL in the spring game.

It made all the difference in the world.

"That was unbelievable," Sam Cooper said. "You don't want anyone to go through that with you, but having that, finding the silver lining in [Kelly] pushing me and me constantly competing with him, I really attribute that to how fast that we both returned."

About midway through preseason camp, just three months after undergoing ACL surgery, Cooper and Kelly were showing significant signs of progress. Chatter that both would play sooner rather than later began to circulate around Clemson.

Both made their 2013 debuts in the S.C. State game. Cooper served, primarily, as a blocker. Against N.C. State a week and a half later, he caught his first pass, an 11-yard touchdown.

"One of the hardest things coming off an ACL is getting that confidence back," Cooper said. "I haven't struggled with it, but that's definitely been a challenge."

The touchdown catch certainly helped.

"To be able to make that play, get that grab, it meant a lot," Cooper said.

Heading into this weekend's game against Wake Forest, he feels healthy.

"I'm definitely 100 percent," Cooper said. "With the training room that we have downstairs and the resources that I have, I feel very confident."

Even he's amazed by it.

"From friends and family as well, it's kind of, ‘Wait, I thought you were just hurt.' What they don't see is the summer that we had and the training that we had," Cooper said. "It's pretty remarkable, but I'm proud of it."

The last several months weren't easy for Cooper. Before the Georgia game, he'd never missed a game because of an injury.

"I'd never been hurt before. I'd never been on crutches. I'd never dealt with anything like that," he said. "So, that's definitely a challenge. With the support staff we have here and all the doctors, my parents, it really wasn't as bad as you would think it was."

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