Jonathon Cooper’s Ohio State career hasn’t exactly gone according to plan. When the Gahanna native got to Ohio State in 2016, he was the No. 33 player in the country, just on the cusp of being a five-star prospect. Playing behind and alongside Nick Bosa and Chase Young, Cooper has made plays, but has yet to become the dominant defensive end that was expected when he was being recruited.
After becoming a starter for the first time in 2018, he was named an All-Big Ten Honorable Mention, and was primed to have a breakout senior season last fall when he was named a team captain for the first time. However, in preseason practice, Cooper suffered an ankle injury that took most of his 2019 season. He played in four contests, but ultimately decided to skip OSU’s postseason games in order to redshirt and maintain his eligibility for one more complete campaign.
Then, the world — and college football — was hit by a global pandemic, and it became a real possibility that his final collegiate season would either have to come in 2021, or Cooper would need to accept that his injury-shortened 2019 was his last go-around with the Buckeyes.
However, Cooper kept working, and as the B1G went back and forth on whether or not a season would actually happen, he continued to exemplify the commitment and perseverance that has become synonymous with his name across Buckeye Nation. Named a captain for the second-straight season, with games on the horizon, Cooper is now ready to leave his mark as the undisputed leader on a young, and reloaded, defensive line.
However, before the Buckeyes take on Nebraska on Oct. 24, after a full-team scrimmage in Ohio Stadium on Saturday, Cooper earned an honor that feels perfectly made for both him and this point in history. In February, the NCAA announced that football teams would be allowed to use the number 0 on jerseys, so Ryan Day and his coaching staff came up with a way to make it a meaningful, career-defining honor.
Each year, the OSU coaching staff will select one player to wear their new Block “0” jersey, in honor of legendary Ohio State defensive tackle Bill Willis. The College and Pro Football Hall of Famer won a national title with OSU in 1942 and broke the color barrier in modern professional football in 1946; his No. 99 was retired at Ohio State in 2007, just weeks before his death.
The recipient of the new Block “0” jersey will be a player who best exemplifies Willis’ fundamental traits of toughness, accountability, and fight. This year, for the very first time, that player will be Cooper, and that couldn’t be more perfect.
“Jonathon Cooper represents everything that an Ohio State football player should be,” Day said. “He’s tough. He’s accountable. He loves this university and this state. He’s someone who continually embodies our culture of ‘fight.’ And that’s in everything that he does, on and off the field. I’m proud of Coop; he’s the perfect person to wear the Block ‘0’ for the first time.”
Come on, you can’t tell me that you don’t get choked up watching this presentation, can you?
For practically each and every one of us, 2020 has been unforeseeably difficult. From a year’s worth of dreams left unrealized, to opportunities that never came to fruition; from losses large and small, to monumental challenges on both personal and societal levels; 2020 has required all of us to take stock of what’s important and to continue to fight and persevere and be accountable in ways that we likely never even knew that we were capable of before we were forced to confront unparalleled frustration, fear, and disappointment.
Cooper has undoubtedly been through all of these emotions and has fought through to be in a position to leave his mark at Ohio State, just as Willis did before him.
“This honor stands out from the rest,” said Cooper. “Being a captain, all the great things that have happened here at Ohio State, this one stands out a lot more to me personally. It doesn’t just represent me, it represents a great man, a great player who played here. I know when I put that jersey on I’m representing him and I have to go out there and be my very best, and I have to do that every single day. This one really means a lot to me.”
This year and this pandemic have forced all of us to find ways to reinvent ourselves, to meet the challenges placed in our paths, and to accept the unforeseen detours and to make them part of our own unique journeys. Cooper has proven that he is capable of doing all of those things throughout his Ohio State career, and he has already been rewarded for his patience and perseverance; I can only hope that we all will be as well.
After some unexpected start and stops, I am back to posting a column every single day from preseason camp until whenever Ohio State’s football season ends. Some days they will be longer and in depth, some days they will be short and sweet. Let me know what you think of this one, and what you’d like to see me discuss in the comments or on Twitter. Go Bucks!