Jonathon Cooper’s career at Ohio State hasn’t necessarily gone exactly the way he thought it would so far, but he still knows how lucky he is to be in the position he’s in.
As a kid growing up in Gahanna, Ohio, just northeast of Columbus, Cooper dreamed of playing football for Ohio State. Now, he’s entering his senior season as a second-year starter at defensive end for the Buckeyes, and is poised to be one of the team’s top leaders this fall.
Many kids in Central Ohio, throughout the state and the entire country dream of having those opportunities, but few actually get the chance to live them out.
So while there are probably a lot of things that most college football players would rather do than sit and answer questions from media members all day, Cooper didn’t mind doing so last week in Chicago, knowing that the opportunity to be one of Ohio State's three representatives at Big Ten Media Days was even more exclusive.
“I don’t take any of this for granted, at all,” Cooper said. “I am extremely blessed and extremely humbled for this experience, because I know not everybody gets to do this. And I just want to make sure I represent The Ohio State University in the best way possible. Just because I am that hometown kid who grew up here, and now I’m here in Chicago representing that university I love so much.”
Jonathon Cooper, a Gahanna native, on what it meant to him to represent Ohio State at Big Ten Media Days: "I don't take any of this for granted, at all. I'm extremely blessed and extremely humbled for this experience because I know not everybody gets to do this." pic.twitter.com/0flUWhhu1E— Dan Hope (@Dan_Hope) July 18, 2019
Representing Ohio State at this year’s Big Ten Media Days meant fielding a lot of questions about how much Ohio State’s defense struggled last year, but Cooper didn’t let that dampen his enthusiasm.
“You guys are great,” Cooper said while meeting with reporters last Thursday afternoon. “You guys think like, ‘Oh man, media day,’ I love talking to you guys. I can talk to you guys forever.”
Cooper acknowledged, though, that he is looking forward to the start of the season and the Buckeyes’ opportunity to prove they have improved on that side of the ball, so that they won’t have to keep being reminded so much about last year.
“That will definitely be a relief, not having to hear about last year anymore,” Cooper said. “I’m excited for Week 1, though. I’m really excited to show the nation what we have to offer, and show them that with everything that did happen last year, we realize that and we’re playing with a chip on our shoulder, and we’re going to get our swagger back and play like the Silver Bullets we know we are capable of.”
Cooper, who was rated as the 33rd-best player in the recruiting class of 2016 out of Gahanna Lincoln High School, has acknowledged dating back to this spring that he does not believe he has performed up to his potential yet at Ohio State.
Nonetheless, he has earned the respect of his teammates and coaches through hard work – Ryan Day said last week that Cooper “is the epitome of what it means to be a Buckeye” and “a tremendous young man.” Cooper is entering this season with an increased level of confidence that he believes will enable him to have a big senior year.
“Even though I came in with this high expectation or being a five-star recruit and everything, I always prided myself on how hard I work,” Cooper said. “I was never patient. It was just finding that confidence in myself and knowing that I am one of the best defensive ends in the nation, and I just need to play like it.”
With just one more year of collegiate eligibility remaining, Cooper knows this season will be the season that defines his legacy as an Ohio State football player. And he wants to make sure he does everything he can both on and off the field to make his mark on the 2019 Buckeyes.
“I try to represent the university, my teammates and my coaches in the best way possible,” Cooper said. “I go as hard as I can every single day. I don’t take any days off. I want to be an example for my teammates. I want to be that leader, I want to be that captain. And I try to show that every single day, and it’s very humbling to know that my team sees it, and that they do respect me enough to send me here and talk on their behalf.”
In addition to preparing for his senior season on the field and working toward graduation – he’s a two-time Academic All-Big Ten honoree – Cooper also spent a week in Costa Rica this summer on a service-learning trip through the Buckeyes Go International program. And that trip, which he described as one of the best trips he has ever been on, is one reason why he’s making sure to appreciate how lucky he is to be an Ohio State football player.
“It changed my perspective a lot,” Cooper said. “Just seeing how happy these kids were with so little makes you see how much we really do take for granted here ... There is so little that you need to be happy. They didn’t have shoes on their feet, they were wearing the same clothes they wore yesterday but the smiles, seeing how genuinely happy they were just to be with us and play with us, man, it meant the world.”