Winthrop's Kandrick Cooper enters the Big South Conference Indoor Track and Field Championship as the odds-on-favorite to win the 60-meter hurdles.
And why not?
The senior from Georgetown has never lost a Big South Conference race -- either indoors, where he set the standard of 7.83 seconds, or outdoors, where he ran a 13.98 seconds over the 110-meter hurdles.
However, that opposing conference coaches are conceding another trophy to Cooper this week is a little unusual since he hasn't run a race all year because of a nagging hamstring injury.
"That's a testament to his talent and his desire," coach Ben Paxton said. "He knows he's good, and he wants to win so bad. He's such a competitor."
Cooper, who has this meet and the last-chance meet at Virginia Tech to qualify for the NCAAs, can't wait to get on the state-of-the-art track at Clemson this afternoon in preliminaries. The finals are Saturday.
"It's been a long season, and I'm looking forward to finally getting to run," Cooper said. "I've worked hard and I'm focused. I know I'll come out on top."
Cooper, who ran at Andrews High School, injured the hamstring during a practice last fall. It was little concern at first.
"I was having a very good practice when I felt something," Cooper said. "I figured I'd be ready to go in a week or so because I've always been able to bounce back from injuries."
This time it didn't happen.
Cooper missed the Clemson opener on Dec. 1, but was back on the track at Virginia Tech in early January.
"I was running in a preliminary and after the second hurdle I felt something and stopped," Cooper said. "My first thought was 'Oh, Lord, help me.' Since then I've been taking things slow."
Paxton was hoping to get Cooper on the track at the Tiger Invitational in Clemson on Feb. 8-9. But again, Paxton and the trainers felt it would be better to err on the side of caution.
"We didn't want to do anything that would jeopardize his outdoor season," Paxton said. "Especially with this being an Olympic year."
As good as he is indoors, Cooper is better outdoors at the 110-meter hurdles. He was leading the NCAA Regional last year when he stumbled on the next-to-last hurdle.
Coming up just short is something that he's used as a daily motivator.
Despite not competing, neither Cooper nor Paxton expect any problems with timing, technique or distractions.
"Maybe, if he were a freshman," Paxton said. "But he's been there before and he knows what he has to do. I'm sure he'll go out and do it."
"All I'll be focused on is that 60-meter lane and those hurdles," Cooper said. "What goes on around me is no concern."
Paxton said he also expects weightman Travis Coleman, high jumper Jason Williams and distance runner Matt Elliott to have excellent meets for the men.
On the women's side, Paxton is looking for Ashley Howard and Felicia Boulware to be very competitive in the throws.