Cooper's return a huge catch for Gators

Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low

Riley Cooper doesn’t know what he would have done had the Texas Rangers told him "no" in August.

Florida coach Urban Meyer doesn’t know what the Gators would have done without Cooper.

“I’m just glad the cards played out right and that I’m here,” said Cooper, who’s been Florida’s leading receiver in the first two games with 10 catches for 187 yards and a touchdown.

Without Cooper, even with Florida’s wealth of talent, the Gators’ receiving corps would look pretty shaky right now.

“Thank God he came back,” Meyer said following Florida’s season-opening 62-3 rout of Charleston Southern. “We’re struggling right now if we don’t have Coop.”

How close was it?

Cooper doesn’t really want to know and neither does Meyer, for that matter.

After being selected by the Texas Rangers in the 25th round of June’s amateur baseball draft, Cooper requested that he be allowed to play his senior season of football at Florida before reporting to the minor leagues.

The Rangers offered him a reported $250,000 contract.

“That was the toughest part, the waiting,” Cooper said. “I told Texas that’s what I wanted to do, and they took a few weeks to get back to me. I was sitting there biting my nails and nervous about not knowing what was going to happen, if they would let me do it or not.”

When he got the answer he was hoping for, one of the first people he called was his roommate, Florida quarterback Tim Tebow.

“He didn’t put any pressure on me during the whole deal, but he’d call and tell me that he was praying for me,” Cooper said. “He knew how much I wanted it to work out.”

For a guy who went all spring and all summer and didn’t play any football, the 6-3, 215-pound Cooper certainly hasn’t looked rusty. He’s emerged as the Gators’ go-to receiver and is also one of their most physical blockers at the receiver position.

Go back and watch him help clear the way for Jeffery Demp’s touchdown last week while blocking without his helmet.

Surprisingly, despite playing baseball all offseason, Cooper said his timing on the football field came back pretty quickly when he joined the Gators for preseason practice in August.

“The big thing was getting back into shape,” Cooper said. “Baseball shape and football shape are completely different. So getting back into shape was the main thing. But running routes and some of the other things took a day or two, and I was right back into it.”

There’s still some uncertainty hovering over this Florida receiving corps heading into Saturday’s game against Tennessee. Cooper has been the one constant, which is why Meyer was so ecstatic to get him back.

In both the SEC Championship Game and BCS National Championship game last season, Cooper made key plays. He also has a nose for the end zone. Of his 40 career catches, 10 have gone for touchdowns.

“I knew with Percy (Harvin) and Louis (Murphy) leaving that I would have to play an expanded role,” Cooper said. “We’ve still got a lot of young guys at receiver. They have a bunch of talent, but some of those guys have to get in the playbook a little bit more and start getting after it.

“We don’t have a lot of depth. But the younger guys are doing a lot better with that stuff. They’re bringing their books home. They’re getting a lot better in practice and making plays. We definitely have more work to do. If I said we didn’t, I’d be lying to you.

“But we’re getting there.”