The future stars of Ohio State football officially begin their Buckeye careers as standouts from all over the country put pens to their National Letters of Intent.
If you tried to find Jonathon Cooper on a recruiting list before February of 2014, you'd have had to search far and wide to find him.
The Cooper File
- Class 2016
- Position DE
- Size 6-3/240
- School Lincoln (Gahanna, OH)
- Composite ★★★★★
- Rank 2 (WDE)
Then, at the Best of the Midwest recruiting combine, one of the region's biggest events held annually in Indianapolis, Cooper made himself extremely easy to find. On the heels of a breakout performance, the then 6-foot-3, 215-pound high school star was hailed by 247Sports analysts as "one of the most effective pass-rushers in attendance" thanks to his "elite edge speed." When the day in Indianapolis was over, Cooper locked in the first of what would eventually become many scholarship offers (from Illinois). Kentucky joined the fray two days later and just like that, Jonathon Cooper had become a name to watch nationally.
Early in his recruitment, the knock on Cooper was that he may be too much of a "tweener," that his frame may prevent him from being a pure college-level defensive end but that playing linebacker wasn't in his future either. Cooper's offers doubled by summer 2014 and although he'd remained in contact with his early favorites (Ohio State and Michigan State among them) it was not until another dominating performance–at Ohio State's Friday Night Lights camp that July–that things really changed in his recruitment.
The offer from the Buckeyes caught Cooper off-guard.
"I was kind of surprised, I mean I knew I did a really good job at the camp," he told 11W following the performance. "Overall I'm just really excited to get an offer."
That night, the "crystal ball" predictions for Cooper began rolling in and the writing was on the wall that the Gahanna Lincoln star would be a Buckeye; it was just a matter of when.
As his junior season began, Cooper's whirlwind recruitment was already winding down. A September 2014 visit for the Virginia Tech game showed him what being a Buckeye could be.
"Playing in front of those fans...would be amazing," Cooper told Eleven Warriors following the trip. "I loved how the defensive players fired out, how they use their hands on the line."
A second in-season visit, in October, seemed to solidify Cooper's mindset and a commitment to the Buckeyes followed quickly. In November 2014, as Ohio State was boarding a plane for Minnesota, Cooper became the fourth commitment of the 2016 recruiting class.
"I wanted to get it over with, to get rid of the stress," Cooper said shortly after announcing his choice. "The coaching staff was really excited, as am I."
For most, an early commitment to your hometown school is when a meteoric recruiting rise would slow down, but not for Cooper. With nothing to prove and no one to prove it to, the part-time a cappella singer made it his personal mission to better himself and go from "'tweener" to "no doubter." He went from high-profile recruiting camp to high-profile recruiting camp to prove he belonged among the nation's best and at every stop impressed not only with his explosive first step and violent hands, but with his leadership and likability.
With multiple stops at Rivals Five-Star Camps and a monster outing in Columbus at Nike's The Opening regional camp, Cooper launched himself from the periphery of the national rankings into the upper echelon by doing what he's always done: working harder than anyone else.
"How I prepare is everything," he told Eleven Warriors' readers. "I always make sure I have a plan of what I'm going out there to do."
The work paid off over the summer as the Ohio State commitment earned five-star status across the recruiting networks.
Cooper is the final new addition to the five-star ranks. His new spot is No. 17 in the country. He was the least likely candidate to add a fifth star coming into the event and makes the biggest jump, up from No. 56 in the country. He's not prototypical in size at 6-3 but he's steadily added good weight that he carries well at 239 pounds, he's athletic but not freakish (4.79 40) and he's one-dimensional right now as purely a pass-rusher. We're betting on Cooper though. We're betting that the Ohio State commit continues to develop at the rapid pace he's on, we're betting that the intangibles, character and motor that he's displayed in camp settings will continue to carry over. And we're betting that this fall, he shows the run-stuffing ability that we haven't been able to evaluate in camps.
Even then, the work didn't stop for Cooper. A trip to Nike's The Opening in early July gave him the chance to earn more national praise and an opportunity to help recruit for the Buckeyes. His matchup with Michigan commitment Michael Onwenu made headline all over the recruiting world, with Cooper silencing critics and ending the "fight" with just one demonstration of his elite athletic ability.
After The Opening, then, that's when he'd take a break, right? Nope. Wrong again. The Ohio State commitment was right back to work, this time in his future home, camping three separate times with the Buckeyes in July, never letting a chance to work with his future coaches or to help the 2016 class pass him by. Even the Buckeyes' coaching staff, as stoic and hard-to-impress as they come, has had a difficult time restraining their praise.
"They just think I’m amazing. They’ve never seen somebody like me. Sometimes they tell me it’s the best defensive end performance they’ve ever seen," Cooper said. "All in all, it’s just telling me I need to work harder and get better."
Cooper became the first member of Ohio State's 2016 class to make his place as an early-enrollee official in August when he signed his mid-year financial agreement, securing his place in the Buckeyes' class and allowing him to focus on his final season with the Golden Lions sans distraction. Like most of his other endeavors, that too paid off.
A 67-tackle and 12-sack senior campaign resulted in being named first team all-Ohio and earning multiple Defensive Player of the Year awards. He's also a finalist for the National Guard JJHuddle Ohio High School Football Defensive Player of the Year, an award that you can help him win by voting here until Dec. 30.
The path to stardom is one that is long and winding, and perhaps no one in the Buckeyes' 2016 class better exemplifies the kind of sacrifice and work needed to get there. From no name to five-star on the back of his commitment to the craft and with an eye to the future, Cooper sees bright things coming and is eager to be a part of it all.
“There’s something really good coming on to Ohio State," he told 11W. "Just with all the talent coming in, we have a chance to do something big here.”