Among the decorated class of wide receiver recruits to enroll early at Ohio State this winter, one held particular appreciation for his arrival.
Mookie Cooper had rejoined a team.
"That was the main thing I’m just happy to get back to," he said.
Cooper did not play for his high school team in suburban St. Louis last fall, missing his senior season because he was ineligible after transferring.
After starring at Trinity Catholic, he left for Pattonville High School in Maryland Heights, Missouri, which permitted him to graduate a semester early, a necessary step to join the Buckeyes for their winter strength and conditioning workouts and the spring practices that start next month.
It was a calculation he felt comfortable with. Cooper knew transferring risked his eligibility. He also thought enrolling early at Ohio State was "the best thing" for him.
A lost senior season is never easy, though.
"I was nearly depressed," Cooper said. "I used to cry a lot, like right after school in the car, just sitting there."
He stopped practicing with the team in October and worked out with private trainers. He expressed longing for the chance to appear in high school all-star games, opportunities afforded to other blue-chip recruits who put up big numbers in games.
Counseling proved helpful while coping with the situation.
Cooper met with Chaun Tate, one of the high school counselors who could relate to his football experience. Tate was once an all-state defensive back at Pattonville before his college career at FCS Southeast Missouri State was limited by injuries, prompting him to be sidelined for extended periods.
"He took me under his wing," Cooper said.
The fall became easier to manage once the calendar flipped to December, when Cooper realized his enrollment at Ohio State was less than a month away. He counted down the days in posts on his Snapchat account.
"Once it got to like the 30-day mark, I started feeling more at ease," Cooper said, "because I was just getting closer to getting here. So it was more like, ‘All right, this phase of my life is getting over with.’ "
Cooper’s absence from the field left him a little overlooked in comparison to Ohio State’s other early enrollees who provided frequent Friday night highlights.
Julian Fleming, Gee Scott Jr. and Jaxon Smith-Njigba were all 1,000-yard receivers during their senior seasons. In particular, Smith-Njigba had a flashy finish, catching 104 catches for 2,094 yards and 35 touchdowns.
But Cooper could help fill an immediate need for the Buckeyes as they look to replace K.J. Hill, their starting slot receiver who was a senior last season, and remain uncertain about the status of C.J. Saunders, who awaits a resolution from the NCAA about his request for a sixth season of eligibility.
They had little depth behind Hill last season.
Listed at 5 feet 9 and 195 pounds, Cooper is known for his speed and fits the archetype of quicker inside receivers who could also be used on sweep plays.
"He's very versatile, an inside receiver who can operate in short areas, has that good burst," coach Ryan Day said. "And really good with the ball in his hands."
Cooper saw himself in the mold of Purdue’s Rondale Moore and Nebraska’s Wan’Dale Robinson, two of the Big Ten’s more electric players.
More than most, he’s eager to begin spring practices. It’s been a long wait.
"Even when we’re going through workouts, when it’s hard," he said, "I’m just thinking like, ‘Why can’t we get a football out here? Why can’t we get a football out here?’ I can’t wait for the actual, the football football, to start."