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UM running backs have talent, deep friendship

CORAL GABLES — His name is Graig Andrew Cooper. That's G-r-a-i-g, not C-r-a-i-g.

"I've got a G in front of my name," said the Miami running back. "I guess everyone sees it with a C."

Everyone, including Tennessee coach Phil Fulmer, who on Cooper's recruiting trip to Knoxville called the young tailback "Craig" and his father "Mr. Cooper" — even though his dad's name is Tino Thomas.

"I just kind of looked at Graig," said Thomas, the supervisor of a tire company in Memphis. "If you're recruiting someone, you need to know what's going on before you put your foot in your mouth."

Miami coach Randy Shannon knew his name and made Cooper his first recruiting visit.

"Coach Shannon didn't promise me nothing," Cooper said, "and that's what I liked about him. I wanted to work for my playing time."

UM's other top running back, now Cooper's closest friend, already was part of the Hurricanes family. In the late 1990s, Javarris James — aka Baby J — would show up at cousin Edgerrin James' practices in a white No. 12 UM jersey with green pants and a plastic UM helmet.

Now, Cooper and Javarris James are there for each other.

When James hurts, Cooper feels pain. When Cooper scores, James sprints to greet him.

"Don't get us wrong, me and Baby J compete," said Cooper, a sophomore. "But it's a brotherhood. Baby J is very loyal and very unselfish. He's just a good person, and I'm the same way. We're connected, good friends who don't let football or anything get between us."

As a freshman, James rushed for 802 yards and four touchdowns, the second most ever for a Miami true freshman, behind Clinton Portis' 838. James caught 17 passes for 200 yards.

Last season, he ran for 582 yards and four touchdowns, adding 100 yards on 14 catches. He started all 12 games (one in the backfield with Cooper), struggling through much of the season.

"He's a very tough kid, a warrior," running backs coach Tommie Robinson said of James.

Cooper, who has gone from 191 to 203 pounds on his 6-foot frame, is the "slasher," Robinson said, "the hard-nosed Memphis kid that won't back down on nobody. He'll lower his shoulder and put some moves on you, too. Our plan is for both of them to play. I'm not taking inexperienced guys into battle."

Cooper finished his first season as UM's top rusher with 682 yards and a 5.5-yard average.

Expect James and Cooper to be used much more in the passing game and to take pressure off rookie quarterbacks Robert Marve, a former Plant High standout, and Jacory Harris.

Shannon said the running backs, including backups Derron Thomas, Lee Chambers, Shawnbrey McNeal and Damien Berry, will each get opportunities.

"We have young quarterbacks," James said. "And the way you get young quarterbacks adjusted is to run the ball."

UM running backs have talent, deep friendship 09/01/08 [Last modified: Tuesday, November 2, 2010 3:31pm]
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