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 CORAL GABLES, Fla. (AP) -Entering last year, Miami defensive back Willie Cooper was probably best known for being the player who was shot in the buttocks during a robbery attempt at his off-campus home.
That all changed last Oct. 21, when Cooper made a game-saving play the Hurricanes still haven't forgotten.
``You get obstacles in life sometimes,'' Cooper said. ``You get graded on how you overcome it.''
He surely got an 'A' for this one.
The Hurricanes led 20-15 with 3 seconds remaining and Duke - which rallied from an 18-point deficit - had the ball on the Miami 6, poised to spring an upset.
Duke quarterback Thad Lewis pump-faked and threw toward the left side of the end zone. Cooper read the play perfectly, intercepted the pass, ran it back 85 yards as time expired and Miami escaped with a 20-15 win.
``I think I was on a knee with my fingers and toes crossed,'' Miami quarterback Kyle Wright said. ``It might sound weird, but I did have faith in our defense that we were going to stop them. I had a feeling that someone was going to make a big play.''
Cooper hadn't been in position to make those plays often in his Miami career.
He was used in many spots over his first three seasons - cornerback, safety, even some linebacker - and was primarily a special-teams player.
Delivering on his opportunity against Duke vaulted his stock, and Cooper is now a key part of a defense that'll see the Blue Devils again Saturday. Miami (3-1, 0-0 Atlantic Coast Conference) hosts Duke (1-3, 0-1) at the Orange Bowl.
M 34-17 last Thursday night.
``He's playing well and we need to keep going on that path,'' Miami coach Randy Shannon said. ``He knows what it takes. He plays hard, he plays special teams and this is his opportunity to play. ... He knows his role. Whenever we need him, he's going to do very well at that position.''
Some auspicious circumstances pressed Cooper into action for last year's Duke game.
Miami was involved in the infamous on-field brawl with Florida International the week before, and 13 players - including four members of the Hurricanes' secondary - were suspended after that fight.
So Cooper rose up the depth chart out of necessity.
``It was an opportunity for a lot of young guys to step up and fill their roles,'' Cooper said. ``When your number's called at the University of Miami, there's not supposed to be a letoff.''
Cooper tried running the interception back for a score, even as coaches screamed at him to get on the ground because the game was over. He injured a quadriceps muscle as he completed his runback and lost the ball; a Duke player scooped it up and ran into the end zone for what would have been the winning score, but referees said Cooper was down. The Blue Devils, after seeing replays, agreed.
``That chance might not come again, so I tried to take advantage of it,'' Cooper said.
He felt fortunate to have any chance last season.
Cooper was shot July 21, 2006 around 6:30 a.m., when he and teammate Brandon Meriweather were getting ready for an offseason workout. They spotted a suspicious car as they were walking outside, and when they went to see who was there, Cooper was confronted and shot by an unknown assailant.
He escaped serious injury, was back on the practice field within a couple weeks and wound up being chosen as the Hurricanes' leadership award winner last season.
``Unfortunately, it was a bad event that happened to me,'' Cooper said. ``I overcame it and I'm a better person for it today.''
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