TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – In the back of his mind, Phil Cofer never doubted that he would be back.
His coach, Leonard Hamilton, told him he would. So did his doctors and trainers.
But until the NCAA gave the official word that Cofer would be granted a medical redshirt – and a fifth year of eligibility along with it – Cofer could never quite breathe easily.
He can now, and so too can the Seminoles.
Hamilton on Friday received a phone call from the NCAA revealing that Cofer’s request for an extra season had been granted. Which means that the leading scorer from a Florida State team that made a run to the NCAA tournament Elite Eight is officially back in the fold.
REPEAT ! pic.twitter.com/gFvcVUJLxq
— Phil Cofer (@philcoferr) May 25, 2018
“Coach ‘Ham’ told me not to stress,” said Cofer, a 6-8 forward from Fayetteville, Ga. “And when he says that, I never do.”
Cofer was asleep when Hamilton called to deliver the news.
Safe to say it was a welcome wakeup call.
“He woke me and said, ‘Congrats,’ then started smiling and laughing,” Cofer said. “I was like, ‘What are you talking about?’ Then I was like, ‘Oh…’
“It’s been a long period.”
Indeed, Cofer’s saga with the NCAA’s redshirt rules dates back to the 2015-16 season, when an injury limited him to the first 11 of Florida State’s 34 games.
Officially, the NCAA allows medical redshirts to players who suffer season-ending injuries before appearing in 30 percent of their teams’ games.
Cofer appeared in 32 percent. Hence the appeal to the NCAA, which in recent years has taken a more lenient policy toward injured players close to the threshold.
Cofer had a particularly compelling case. Not only did he miss the rest of his sophomore season in 2015-16, but lingering effects from the injuries severely limited his effectiveness in 2016-17.
It wasn’t until last year, Cofer’s senior season, that he could play without pain.
The results were as exceptional as they were surprising: A team-high 12.8 points per game, a 37.5-percent clip from 3-point range and 5.1 rebounds per game.
This from a player whose previous best 6.9 points per game as a freshman.
Cofer wasn’t just a welcome addition to what would become FSU’s most successful team in 25 years. He was a crucial piece.
And he’ll be a crucial piece in the season ahead, too.
“For him to have an opportunity to continue his development and growth after going through those two years of chronic injuries – for the NCAA to give him his opportunity, it’s what it’s supposed to all be about,” Hamilton said.
“I’m so happy for him and happy for his teammates, because we get to continue the growth of our program with a guy who, more than anything else, not only is a good player for us, but he has great leadership qualities that I think really, really will be the type of leadership that we need for this team.”
Cofer had a number of memorable moments during FSU’s Elite-Eight run, including a 16-point, 12-rebound outburst in the season finale against Michigan.
And despite losing three members of that team – guard Braian Angola to graduation, guard C.J. Walker and Ike Obiagu to transfer – Cofer thinks the Seminoles can reach even greater heights during his redshirt senior season.
When a team finishes in the Elite Eight, there’s not many more rungs left on the ladder.
“It’s definitely exciting,” Cofer said. “After the season, everybody got straight into the gym. And I saw, from that, everybody is still locked in. They’re trying to go farther than we did last year.”
And having Cofer back is a great first step in that direction.