Pharoh Cooper learned an early lesson about football while playing in youth leagues. It’s a lesson he carries with him each time he steps on the football field as quarterback of the Havelock Rams, and it will no doubt be there as he leads the Rams against Concord in Saturday’s state championship game.
"Part of playing football is don’t let anybody touch you," he said.
Few have been able to get their hands on the senior quarterback, which is one reason why the Rams are back in the state championship game.
Cooper’s elusiveness has been on display throughout the year, eluding tacklers in the pocket, avoiding defenders while running the option and escaping from others on punt returns.
"I just thank the Lord for giving me the ability to do that," said Cooper, who has committed to play college at South Carolina. "I’m very grateful to have that ability."
Cooper started in last year’s state championship game, but in that one, he was catching passes as a receiver from record-setting quarterback Garrett Crowe. Cooper caught four passes for 86 yards and two touchdowns in being named the Offensive Most Valuable Player for the game.
His role will be much different against Concord in this year’s state title game as he leads the team from the quarterback position. Cooper has thrown for 2,798 yards and 23 touchdowns on the season with just six interceptions.
"I knew he was a great athlete, and I knew he would be very efficient in the run game and the option game," Bryant said of moving Cooper from receiver to quarterback. "I knew he could throw the ball, but he’s matured a lot this season and become a much better passer than I had anticipated."
But Cooper has also proven valuable in other areas this season. He has rushed for 1,174 yards and another 14 touchdowns. And just for good measure, he is averaging 31 yards per punt return with three more touchdowns.
"He’s become a good leader," Bryant said. "He’s become a coach on the field."
He is so valuable to the Rams that he also plays safety, where he has recorded 11 tackles with one interception and one fumble recovery, though Bryant has limited Cooper’s time on defense this year to save him for the offense.
But against Orange in last week’s eastern regional championship, Cooper rarely left the field in the first three quarters.
"I go hard every play," he said.
But he’s quick to point out that he’s not the only one.
"We’ve got great linemen, great receivers and great running backs," said Cooper, who threw for 248 yards and rushed for another 98, accounting for four touchdowns against Orange. "I thank my team every time I get a chance to because they really make some holes."
Cooper said preparation to reach the state title game started just after last year’s 38-6 championship triumph over West Rowan.
"We’ve been waiting on this day since Dec. 6 of last year," he said. "We’ve been preparing for this game all year, and now we’re back."
He knows Concord (13-2) is a serious threat.
"There’s no sorry teams in the state championship," he said. "They’ve worked hard all year, and we’ve worked hard all year. Let the best team win."
And he believes that team will be the Rams.
"If we do our jobs and play the way we’re supposed to play," he said, "we’ll come out with a win."