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Ohio State’s Jonathon Cooper has taken a winding road to the NFL Draft

The former five-star recruit has navigated plenty of road blocks in his drive to make it to the NFL.

NCAA Football: Ohio State at Michigan State Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports

After a roller coaster career at Ohio State, defensive end Jonathon Cooper is now preparing to hopefully hear his name called in a couple months in the 2021 NFL Draft. The Gahanna native grew up rooting for the Buckeyes, so it was a dream for Cooper when Urban Meyer and Ohio State showed interest him as a recruit. Not that the Buckeyes were alone, as Cooper was one of the most sought-after defensive ends coming out of high school.

Cooper started playing the game he would excel at in the pee-wee leagues, where his aggressiveness made him a natural fit on defense. Football wasn’t the only game where Cooper found success, as he was also a standout on the basketball court growing up. While Cooper wasn’t as heavily recruited on the hardwood, he credits his basketball background for helping cultivate some of the moves he uses on the football field.

As a freshman in high school, Cooper did face some adversity when he was diagnosed with Wolff-Parkinson-White, which causes a rapid heartbeat. Cooper had a decision to make. He could either have a pacemaker installed in his heart, which would essentially end his playing career, or he could have a couple surgeries. Cooper opted for the surgeries, which together lasted almost 20 hours, so he would have a shot at resuming his playing career.

The decision to opt for the surgeries paid off, as Cooper became a five-star recruit at defensive end in high school. Cooper was part of Ohio State’s 2016 class, which also included defensive end Nick Bosa. In his first season with the Buckeyes, Cooper would appear in six games and record a sack.

With Bosa, Chase Young, and a number of other talented defensive ends on the roster, Cooper didn’t see quite as much time on the field as he was hoping, but still was able to be an important member of the defensive end rotation of the Buckeyes. By the time Cooper’s senior season rolled around in 2019, he was ready to take more of a starring role for Ohio State at defensive end.

While his expectations were high heading into the season, the 2019 campaign didn’t go as planned. Cooper suffered a high-ankle sprain that limited him to four games, but also allowed him to take a medical redshirt. Even though Cooper was obviously devastated at being sidelined, he displayed why he was so highly regarded amongst his fellow players and the coaches, as he did everything he could to support his teammates.

This allowed Cooper one last shot at glory in Columbus in 2020. The second chance at a final year with the Buckeyes took on even more importance when Cooper was given the inaugural “Block O” jersey, which was a tribute to Ohio State great Bill Hicks, who would go on to become one of the first African-Americans to play in the NFL.

It looked as if Cooper was going to feature heavily in Ohio State’s plans in 2020, with the Buckeyes needing a fixture at defensive end after Chase Young was taken with the second overall pick in the 2020 NFL Draft. Those plans almost looked like they weren’t going to come to fruition, as the COVID-19 pandemic left Ohio State’s season in limbo.

Even though Ohio State wasn’t able to play a full season of college football, at least the Buckeyes were able to get onto the field, which was something that didn’t look possible in the summer. Cooper would finish the season with 3.5 sacks, and was an important part of a Buckeye squad that was able to make it to the national title game.

Since the season ended, Cooper has been busy. Just a short time removed for the national title game, Cooper headed down to Mobile for the Senior Bowl. Not only was Cooper able to give scouts a better look at what he brings to the table, he also looked to expand his game even more, working some on the interior to try and become a more versatile member of the defensive line.

Cooper knows there is still plenty of work to do as he looks to evolve as a defensive end. The biggest area that Cooper has worked on is playing and moving in space. While he is still trying to cultivate his skills to become an NFL-caliber defensive end, all he wants is a chance. Any team that adds Cooper to their roster is guaranteed to get a player who is going to work tirelessly to become the best player he can possibly be.

Even though Cooper might not have put up stats like the Bosa brothers and Chase Young at Ohio State, he knows he has what it takes to play at the professional level. Cooper has been through so much in his life so far, whether it be the heart issue that was discovered when he was younger, to the injuries he dealt with at Ohio State, quitting is not an option. The Gahanna native is hungry, and he’ll stop at nothing to start writing the next chapter of his story.