Cooper Ready for Starting Position

CLEMSON – Now that the academic suspensions to three senior starters are finally official, the shift in attention now focuses in on the three players filling their spots.

Scotty Cooper, Kavell Conner and Chris Hairston are the names Clemson football fans will become very familiar with over the next two weeks.

The Sam linebacker spot belonged to Tramaine Billie, but that position is now employed by Cooper, a true freshman who is expected to be the starter there for the next three years.

Conner is running with the first team at Will in place of Nick Watkins and Chris Hairston is the new starting right tackle in place of Christian Capote.

But it is the youngest of the three new replacements seems the least awed by his new starting role and, to be honest, he's probably the player of the three that is most ready to be a starter against No. 22 Auburn in the Chick-fil-A Bowl New Year's Eve.

That's pretty impressive stuff for someone who was playing in high school just a short year ago.

"I had high expectations for myself and goals, and this was always a dream of mine to be starting sometime in college," Cooper said. "But I had no idea I'd be starting in a bowl game my freshman year. It's exciting and I've just got to take care of business and just step up."

Cooper started one game earlier in the year and has played a total of 117 plays and has 23 tackles, including one for a loss. He also has one pass breakup and four quarterback pressures.

Cooper and the coaching staff are very confident he will be able to fill the role vacated by the team's third leading tackler.

"I've been playing all year, so I already have the experience," Cooper said. "So, there should be no excuses. I should just step in and go with it."

Even so, the fact that this is being played in the Georgia Dome, against a national powerhouse, and will be one of the most watched bowl games of the season could be somewhat daunting, especially for a freshman.

However, Cooper, who sports a scruffy beard, looks, acts and sounds like a grizzled veteran.

"It's just football and I've been playing football my whole life," he said. "There's just a little bit more people in the stands and watching on TV, but it's just football. I'm just going to be so focused in on helping my team and knowing my assignments.

"I won't get caught up in the moment. I haven't yet since I got here. It's just the same game, but just on a bigger stage. I'm competitive and I live for that."

WATKINS, BILLIE, CAPOTE: Tigers head coach Tommy Bowden said he's never had three starters suspended for a game, but he added that new NCAA rules have made it more likely to happen.

He also said that it's a good learning experience for the rest of his team, which is very young. Clemson will only have three seniors on scholarship against Auburn.

"I think it's a good lesson because of the accountability factor," Bowden said. "You're held accountable for your actions. It's disappointing because of the opportunities they were given in Vickery Hall to be successful." Bowden said even if NCAA rules allow the three to travel with the team to Atlanta and receive their bowl gifts and money that he's not going to let any of that happen.

"I don't know if they can, but they won't," he said. "They might be (eligible for bowl gifts and money) but they're not getting them. They're held accountable. They knew way beforehand what was at stake. I've told everybody what's at stake. Every ounce of every bowl money you get and every gift you get is going to be at stake."

Bowden said he has spoken to all three players and discussed the whole situation.

"I think they're learning about accountability, which is one thing even some adults don't understand," he said. "With responsibility goes accountability. They're learning firsthand exactly what that is."

Bowden admitted that he had given game balls to Watkins and Billie following the South Carolina game, but said it wasn't because he figured they weren't going to be around for the bowl game.

"Tramaine was from Columbia and originally committed to South Carolina for about six or eight months as a running back then changed," Bowden said. "Then Nick has had so much to go through. His brother died the first year that he was here, then he got his house flooded (with Hurricane Katrina) and I his younger brother is living with him now because of difficulties.

"It was more or less for what he's endured. He's endured a lot over the last five years. That's why we're going to do everything we can to see that they graduate."

QUICK HITS: The team will notw wear full pads Wednesday, but will on Thursday and Friday for live hitting. ... Bowden said he's not sure when he'll make an announcement on the status of middle linebacker Cortney Vincent, but stated that the redshirt junior will travel to Atlanta and continue to practice until a decision has been rendered one way or the other. …

Defensive coordinator Vic Koenning said the defense is practicing as well and as hard now than at any point during his tenure at Clemson. Top Stories