Jonathon Cooper does not characterize his Ohio State career as disappointing, nor should he.
The Gahanna product was a starter last season at defensive end, playing even more after Nick Bosa’s season-ending injury. Though his stats were modest — 25 tackles, 6½ tackles for loss, 2½ sacks — he played better down the stretch.
But Cooper, a highly touted recruit, isn’t satisfied. He is determined to make his senior year special.
“I’m not going to be the player that was highly recruited, came in and had (just) an OK season,” Cooper said Friday after Ohio State’s eighth spring practice. “I want to make sure I fulfill my potential at Ohio State and give it all I’ve got.”
Cooper’s effort has never been questioned. Defensive line coach Larry Johnson gushed about that.
“He outworks everybody,” Johnson said. “You’re not going to outwork Jonathon Cooper. That’s his edge, that he plays so hard.”
But early in his career, Cooper would sometimes play hard at the expense of playing efficiently. Now, Johnson said, Cooper’s improved understanding of the game is allowing him to diagnose plays and be more effective.
“It’s really neat that he understands that now,” Johnson said. “A couple years ago, it was just, ‘Let me play and get to the ball.’ He now realizes his responsibilities are a little different.”
That goes for off the field as well. Cooper has a gregarious personality, always quick with a smile. He is among the most respected players on the team.
“I think he’s mature beyond his age,” Johnson said. “He really has a sense of who he is. He’s a great student. He comes from a great family. All of that builds into who he is.”
Johnson said he hopes Cooper will be named a captain. Whether or not that happens, Cooper knows he has to be an example to the Buckeyes’ young defensive linemen.
“I embrace it with everything I have,” Cooper said. “I want to make sure I’m a role model for the young guys. I want to make sure I show them how to work, how to play and study the game and be that big brother and leader and captain.”
Ohio State’s players spoke Friday of a scheme change in which linemen are now asked almost exclusively to go north-south instead of sometimes moving sideways to occupy blockers.
“I think that’s going to make a huge difference,” Cooper said. “I like going forward, taking off the ball, showing my speed, instead of moving laterally so much so that I’m not really getting off the ball.”
Fellow senior defensive lineman Jashon Cornell said one aspect of Cooper’s game already looks better.
“His pass rush has gotten a lot better this spring,” Cornell said.
Cooper has never shied away from the spotlight that comes with being a blue-chip local player.
“I feel it’s had a huge effect on me personally because I know what everybody expects of me, and I understand the pressure on myself to live up to that expectation,” he said. “But I feel no one holds me to a higher standard than myself. I know what I need to get done and how I have to play.”
And there is nothing that adds to urgency more than becoming a senior.
“I’m very focused and feel I’m ready to take on that role and become the player I feel everyone expects me to be,” Cooper said. “I’m taking every day like it’s my last, and I’m very excited for my last year.”