RECRUITING: Cooper's a Gator (UPDATED)

Riley Cooper and his family hosted Florida coach Urban Meyer in their home Saturday afternoon. Meyer departed with a commitment from Cooper to play football for the Gators. Then it was time for Cooper to contact Florida baseball coach Pat McMahon, who last June, led his squad to the national championship game in Omaha. The Gators baseball success played a key role in helping Cooper make his decision.

(See Riley Cooper profile)

"I probably picked Florida about a week ago," said Cooper, a four-star rated athlete on the football field and a potential number one draft pick in baseball from Clearwater Central CatholicCooper. "It's just an all around best fit for me. They [Florida] have an awesome baseball team, an awesome football team, and a degree from Florida is awesome. I think that they have a top five academic school. It's just an overall great package considering that I want to do both sports."

"We're Gators and we're fired up," added Riley's dad, Larry Cooper.

When Cooper pulled the trigger on the Florida commitment, it ended a recruiting battle that centered around the Gators and the Tennessee Vols.

"It was really close [against Tennessee]," he said. "They're both top of the line until about a week ago. You know, you have to make decisions. I picked one that is a little bit closer but they're both great schools."

Cooper's scholarship will say football. He's a 6-4, 205-pounder who made all-State as a wide receiver on offense and free safety on defense who may very likely wind up at safety for the Gators. But, he will also play baseball in the spring.

"He's going to play baseball and football," said Larry Cooper. "In a few minutes he's going to get on the phone and talk with Coach (Pat) McMahon (University of Florida baseball coach)."

There is no question that Urban Meyer's baseball background with the Atlanta Braves organization (Meyer was a 13th round draft pick of the Braves out of high school) helped the coach talk direct about the prospects of playing both sports. Cooper is a very sharp, articulate young man, who seemingly has the academic foundation necessary to pull off the feat. There is no question that he has the athleticism to make the transition from the gridiron to the diamond.

What exactly sold Cooper on Florida's football fortunes?

"Florida is playing at least three to five receivers every play, so you know they're going to throw the ball," Cooper said. "They just picked up (Nease quarterback) Tim Tebow, and he obviously, is just an awesome quarterback. They're going to throw the ball a lot with him, and that is a big thing for me."

Cooper was very successful returning punts. He returned three for touchdowns that were called back because of penalties in his junior year alone.

"I might do some punt returns," Cooper acknowledged. "I don't know about kick returns though. But, yeah, he [Meyer] said something about me doing punt returns."

Cooper could join Florida signee Derrick Robinson (Gainesville PK Yonge) in the Florida outfield. The duo would not lack the speed tracking down balls hit their way or on the basepaths. Cooper runs the sixty in 6.25 seconds, while Robinson has run it in 6.19 seconds. They were the two fastest players timed at a major league baseball combine last year. Could you imagine adding Tim Tebow, who as a pitcher/outfielder helped lead Nease to the state championship baseball game last season? By the way, Tebow runs the sixty in 6.3 seconds?

While Robinson has not dismissed the possibility of signing with a team after the major league draft, Cooper will definitely not go that route. His Dad told me the family is doing well financially, and that it is more important for Riley to get an education. It would appear the decision making ability of the Cooper family is yet another strong point.

"We're going to school, brother," said Larry Cooper. "We're a very fortunate family and we're well enough off so that Riley is going to get an education."

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Florida offered Cooper's Clearwater Central Catholic teammate linebacker Colin McCarthy two weeks ago. He went on his official visit to the University of Miami this weekend and is scheduled to return on Sunday. He has not committed at this time.

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