Jonathon Cooper enrolled two years ago at Ohio State from Gahanna as a five-star recruit.
He went from big fish to a guppy in a loaded pond. Ohio State has been absolutely stacked at defensive end. He handled it well, in part because of his naturally upbeat personality and faith that if he worked hard, his time would come.
“It wasn’t hard per se,” Cooper said. “I just knew every day I had to bring it. Every single day I had to give it all I had and just keep getting better season by season. Now I have a chance where I can really show the world what I can do.”
Cooper started the Buckeyes’ first three games at defensive end this year along with preseason All-American Nick Bosa, ahead of budding star Chase Young. With Bosa injured for the Tulane game on Saturday and quite possibly beyond that, the junior is ready for an even bigger role.
“The way I view it, Nick Bosa is Nick Bosa,” Cooper said. “But our motto as a defensive line has always been ‘next man up.’ Guys just have to step up now. I feel the entire defensive line is going to step up and not miss a beat.
“I feel I’m going to step up my game and take it to another level, keep going as hard as I can every Saturday and get better.”
Cooper has had a quiet year statistically. He has been credited with five tackles and one sack, though he didn’t play much in the second half of blowouts against Oregon State and Rutgers.
“He’s played well,” defensive coordinator Greg Schiano said. “The production may be not so big, but he’s really played and done his job well. I think with more opportunities that will lead to more production.”
“Our coaches really emphasize doing your job, and if all 11 people do their job, you’re going to have a chance to win,” he said. “I feel the plays are going to come with doing your job and working hard.”
Schiano said that Cooper has always been regarded as a hard worker and is popular among teammates.
“He’s a well-respected guy,” defensive tackle Dre’Mont Jones said. “He has a lot of talent. I think he’s still pretty young and raw. This is his first year really getting snaps and he’s adjusting fast. He has a lot to grow, just like Chase does.”
With one of the best defensive players in the country injured, that growth needs to happen fast. Cooper believes he had his best game against TCU last week.
“It was a real game,” he said. “When we saw Nick go down, people had to step up, and I feel I stepped up to the plate and made plays.”
For two years, he served an extended apprenticeship. That may not be the way it works for a lot of five-star prospects, but he understood the circumstances.
“With stuff like that, I trust myself with putting in the time and putting in the work,” Cooper said. “I feel like other guys might take it like, ‘I’m supposed to be the guy up front.’
“But I know my time is going to come, and my time is here now. Yeah, I’m an upbeat, happy guy, but I’m also a fierce competitor.”