With the Canes participating in their third closed scrimmage of the fall and school set to begin Wednesday, I figured this was the perfect time to wrap up the countdown of the Top 60 players at Miami. By now, you've figured out who the final three are. Here's why Graig Cooper is No. 3.
> What we heard about him on Signing Day '07: Cooper graduated from high school in 2005 as Mr. Football in Tennessee after leading Melrose High to the state title with 2,123 yards and 30 touchdowns. But he wasn't academically eligible to qualify for college and headed to prep school at Milford Prep where he maintain a strong relationship with former coach Larry Coker. At Milford, Cooper ran for 1,327 yards and 15 touchdowns (averaging 12.5 yards per carry) in a backfield that also featured current Philadelphia Eagles rookie LeSean McCoy. He stuck with the Canes despite Coker's firing.
> What he's done as a Cane: Since his arrival, Cooper has led the Canes in rushing and scoring (11 TDs). In 2007, he shared the Rookie of the Year award with Orlando Franklin after finishing with 682 yards and five touchdowns. It was the third most rushing yards by a true freshman behind Clinton Portis (838) and Javarris James. As a sophomore, he was named UM's Most Versatile Player after rushing for 841 yards and catching 29 passes for 113 yards and scoring six times (four rushing, one receiving, one punt return). He broke the century mark three times and carried it a career-high 24 times for for 131 yards in the OT win at Virginia.
> What Eye On The U expects from him in '09: Cooper had a boot on his foot last week for a day, but was back out at practice making moves and showing his teammates why he's still most capable running back on the team. At 6-feet, 205-pounds and 4.37 speed in the 40 (he timed as the third fastest on the team this spring), Cooper has all the ingredients to be even better this year. But the question is if he'll be able to breakaway from the rest of UM's backfield. Coach Randy Shannon has been quoted as saying he'd like for one back to do most of the primary work. Nobody is better fit to do that than Cooper, who has the best hands out of the backfield, picks up the blitz the best and has averaged 5.2 yards a carry in his career. Personally, if he can stay healthy, I expect Cooper to reach his goal of reaching 1,000 yards this year and being a serious contender for ACC Offensive Player of the Year.
FYI... Seeing how I didn't get a lot of time off this summer covering the Marlins, I decided to take this week off (knowing the Canes start prepping for Florida State next week). So, there will be no live Q&A today at 2 p.m. or any updates from practice later this week. Our Susan Miller Degnan will be out there covering it all when practice resumes Thursday morning. I'll be back out there beginning Monday.