COLUMBIA -- As he was on his way to another season as South Carolina's leading tackler, Emanuel Cook decided he also was on his way to the NFL.
Cook, a junior who had done OK in the classroom his first two years at USC, started skipping classes and adopted a devil-may-care attitude toward his coursework, according to Gamecocks coaches and an academic administrator.
"I think pro football was on his mind," USC coach Steve Spurrier said.
The result: Cook failed to pass the minimum six credit hours required by the NCAA for players to participate in bowl games. So Cook is ineligible for the Outback Bowl and likely has played his last snap for the Gamecocks.
Cook might not be the only player to miss the bowl. Several players including middle linebacker Jasper Brinkley, are waiting on grades that will determine their eligibility, sources said.
The 5-10, 203-pound Cook averaged 90 tackles the past two seasons but will leave with a "stained" legacy, according to Raymond Harrison, the Gamecocks' director of academics and life skills.
On Tuesday, Spurrier said he thought Cook "tossed it in" academically midway through the semester. He amended that Wednesday, saying coaches did not learn of Cook's academic woes until late in the semester.
"Honestly, midway through the semester he wasn't in bad shape. He was on the cusp of passing or not passing. But he wasn't in bad shape," Harrison said. "In terms of missing class, he missed some classes. But (becoming ineligible) wasn't totally based on him not going to class.
"The last few weeks or so, he put himself in a position where what he did would make him or break him. It just didn't get done, for whatever reason."
According to Harrison, a few of Cook's absences were on critical days in his classes. Harrison said Cook attended extra study-hall sessions so he would not be subject to penalties, which include practice and game suspensions, under the athletics department's class-attendance policy.
"If you talk to Emanuel, I think he'll say that he didn't give his all," Harrison said. "His first two years he worked extremely hard, and he didn't come close to doing that this semester for whatever reason."
Attempts to reach Cook have been unsuccessful. A message left on his cell phone was not immediately returned Wednesday.
Harrison said Cook did not fail out of school and could be eligible for the 2009 season if he chose to return, although Spurrier expects Cook to enter the draft.
Cook was not the only player who had a poor semester. Harrison said the team's cumulative grade-point average slipped following three consecutive semesters at 2.5 or higher.
Harrison said he would not know the team's final fall GPA until all of the grades were in. Harrison, who arrived at USC from Louisville in the fall of 2006, hopes Cook's situation will be a wake-up call for some of his teammates.
"I'm not happy with what happened this term. Anytime you lose anybody, it's disappointing," he said. "Hopefully, this will allow some other people to open their eyes and say, if it happens to him, it can happen to me. Because, bottom line, I think our guys need to take a little more responsibility in this. We're going to provide them all the resources that they need. But if they're not going to give the effort level, it really doesn't matter."
Spurrier echoed Harrison's comments.
"At some point the players, hopefully, will take responsibility. We're not going to wake 'em up, hold their hand and walk to class," Spurrier said.
"It's hard to lead a horse to water and make him drink. Same situation. You can make them go to class, but if they don't want to do any work in the class, they're not going to pass. We don't have many like that, fortunately."