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Wednesday, July 06, 2022

For two weeks, Riley Cooper wasn't sure he was going to play college football again.

The 25th-round pick in June's MLB Draft was in contract negotiations with the Texas Rangers, and the baseball franchise wasn't immediately sold on allowing the wide receiver to return to Gainesville for his senior season.

Cooper admits he began considering life without football.

Then, the Rangers gave the green light, and now the 6-foot-3, 215-pound wideout is trying to catch up on the gridiron after missing all of spring practice and summer workouts.

"I love football. I love baseball," Cooper said. "I wanted to come back and contribute for a third national championship."

Cooper said he thought he would feel more out of shape than he does.

Receivers coach Billy Gonzales complimented Cooper on his conditioning work and feels it's only a matter of time until the senior is back to playing like normal.

Cooper started 12 games last season and finished fifth on the team in receiving with 18 catches for 261 yards.

Gonzales said Cooper's track record would not be forgotten as starting spots are deciding during fall camp.

"Here's the difference," Gonzales said. "He's a guy who's proven himself."

Gonzales knows Cooper's experience will help mold the mostly inexperienced receiving corps, including incoming freshmen Stephen Alli and Andre Debose.

"They gotta understand what it's like to play in the Southeastern Conference," Gonzales said. "They've gotta see somebody that's done it before. He brings that toughness factor."

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The wideouts coach initially missed a late-night call from Cooper's father, Larry, about the good news. Gonzales said he had texted Riley back and forth and had a good feeling. He was happy to learn the following morning that he would have back the senior wideout who keeps things "lively" during meetings.

There was another Gator extra happy to hear Cooper was returning to Gainesville: Cooper's roommate, Tim Tebow.

Tebow said he let Cooper make his own decision while weighing football against baseball.

"I just let him know that we wanted him back," Tebow said, "and we wanted him part of this team."

He might have been avoiding stepping on coaches' toes, but Tebow wasn't ready to guarantee any starting spots, even to one of his closest friends on the team.

"We're not going to hand out a job, or you're not going to have a job just because you had one last year," Tebow said. "You've gotta come and compete. That's what (Cooper) wants."

For now, though, Cooper is just happy to be able to finish up his gridiron career before shifting his complete focus to baseball.

"It's a special team," he said. "I'm real excited to get back with the guys. I missed everybody."

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