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Tuesday, July 05, 2022

Cooper returning for senior season despite agreeing to MLB deal

Riley Cooper will be wearing orange and blue this fall after all.

The senior wide receiver will be returning to the Gators to play his final season of college football despite agreeing to terms with the Texas Rangers to sign a pro baseball contract.

Cooper was drafted by the Rangers in the 25th round and has been playing minor league baseball all summer.

NCAA rules allow an athlete to become a professional in one sport while maintaining their eligibility in another, so with the Rangers' permission, the road was paved for the 6-foot-3, 215-pound wideout to return to Gainesville for the fall.

Signing a contract with the Rangers will end his college baseball career, however.

Coach Urban Meyer's statement regarding Cooper's return alluded to Meyer's big expectations for the senior.

"We are excited to have Riley back as part of our 2009 team," Meyer said. "He will be counted on heavily to be one of our go-to receivers. I've said numerous times during the offseason that we need someone to step up with the departure of Percy Harvin and Louis Murphy. We haven't had someone step up yet, and Riley can certainly be someone that does."

That wasn't all. He went on to praise Cooper, who started 12 games in 2008 and finished fifth on the team in receiving with 18 catches for 261 yards.

"Riley is an extremely gifted athlete," Meyer said. "His speed, size and strength make him a tough matchup for defenses. Our whole offense is predicated on matchup problems for the defense, and Riley certainly helps do that for us. He is a big-time playmaker.

"In all of my years of coaching, I don't know if I've ever coached a player that can compete at such a high level in football and baseball. He is a special talent."

With the loss of Harvin to the NFL and a mostly inexperienced receiving corps, Cooper will at least provide another familiar face for senior quarterback Tim Tebow. Cooper had only three touchdown catches last year, but Tebow connected with him for a 5-yard score with 2:50 remaining in the SEC Championship Game to put UF up 31-20 and seal the win over Alabama. He had two catches for 28 yards against Oklahoma in the BCS National Championship Game.

"I'm glad to hear that Riley is coming back," Tebow said in a statement. "He has the ability to stretch the field and give us the ability to score from anywhere. He has made a bunch of big plays for us, and I'm looking forward to hooking up with him for many more big plays."

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Cooper was originally drafted by the Philadelphia Phillies in the 15th round after graduating from high school in 2006, but he elected to come to Gainesville instead of signing a contract. He was ineligible to be drafted again until after his junior year, and the Rangers grabbed him this time around in June's MLB Draft.

Cooper and the Rangers have until midnight on Aug. 17 to officially sign a contract.

"It was a tough decision, one of the hardest I've ever had to make, but I'm excited about being part of the Texas Ranger organization and coming back and playing football for my final season," Cooper said in a statement. "More importantly, I'm looking forward to being around my Florida teammates and our Gator coaching staff. We have something special going on in Gainesville and I want to be a part of that. I want to thank the Texas Rangers for allowing me to play my senior football season at Florida, the University of Florida and especially Coach Meyer for all his patience and support during this process."

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