ENGLEWOOD — Draft day became an episode of "Hangin' With Mr. Cooper."
Jonathon Cooper waited nearly 72 hours to hear his name called in the NFL's annual selection process. The anxiety began to fray his nerves so he took a walk with his mom. No use in losing fingernails watching the slow scroll at the bottom of the TV.
Then the phone rang.
"I see the 303 area code and the Denver Broncos name pops up. I answer and I hear, 'You want to be Denver Bronco?' and I said, 'Of course.' It was a special moment me and my mom shared," Cooper told Denver7 as part of his Meet The Picks segment which airs Friday at 6 p.m. "It is one of the best feelings I have ever had."
The accomplishment went from personal to viral minutes later. Cooper's sisters — he has three, ages 18, 11 and 9 — spread the word that the Broncos had selected Cooper in the seventh round. Within minutes, a battery of neighborhood kids showed up to congratulate the former Lincoln High prep star and two-time Buckeyes captain, video that spread on Twitter.
"They all rushed over. My mom told me they are all outside. So I walk out the door and see a mob of kids," Cooper said. "It was definitely just a humbling and great experience for me, honestly. And they just wanted to stay and throw the football with me. I didn't mind. I think we ordered some pizza. I grew up in this neighborhood. I have lived here since I was 12. So it was really cool."
It doesn't take long when talking to Cooper to see why teammates gravitate toward him. He's bright, charismatic and determined in his pursuit of excellence. In his senior season, he became the first Buckeye chosen to wear the “Block O” jersey, for his character and selfless, player-driven leadership qualities.
"To have my peers choose me for that, it means so much," Cooper said. "Honestly, it’s the most humbling award I have ever received."
This determination and integrity lured the Broncos to him. Cooper also delivered a strong Senior Bowl performance.
"He’s going to play a long time in the league. He's a glue guy in the locker room. He will be a leader. He is mature beyond his years," said Jim Nagy, the director of the Senior Bowl. "He plays his (bleep) off. That's his calling card."
The Broncos need depth at outside linebacker behind Von Miller, coming off a missed season because of a dislocated ankle tendon, and Bradley Chubb, who had bone chips removed in his ankle after his Pro Bowl campaign, and Malik Reed, who paced the team with eight sacks.
“Most of these players we draft and all of the players we were looking at, we were looking for that kind of make-up. He is special with the make-up. I went to the Ohio State pro day. Watched the way he competed and the way he went about his workout and took it serious," Broncos GM George Paton said. "How he worked out and the type of shape he was in. Then you speak with the kid. He's everything you want in a teammate and a player representing the organization.”
Cooper should be in the mix for a roster spot with his blend of athleticism and sound technique even as he learns to adapt to dropping back in coverage when he needed.
"I am someone who plays with relentless effort, and gets after the passer. They run a 3-4 and I will be standing up and not putting my hand in the dirt," Cooper said. "You can trust and believe that I am working my tail off every day and giving Broncos (Country) everything that I have."
A health issue interrupted his initial impression. Cooper missed the Broncos' offseason workouts as he had a procedure to address a rapid heart beat. In high school, Cooper was diagnosed with Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome, and required the ablation to correct the issue, something he had done twice before attending Ohio State.
The hope remains that he will be cleared for training camp. Cooper, by nature, brings positive vibes. He smiled when I asked him where his contagious personality and love for football comes from.
"My mom is where I get the (personality), the way she raised me, and how amazing she was to me. She was telling me I was a leader bringing energy and that light," Cooper said.
"My love for football started very young. I was a very aggressive kid and always hitting. My mom put me in football at age 6 or 7. I love playing with my brothers on the team. Everything football teaches is about life. About how hard life is, about how you have to work together to get through things. It’s an amazing sport that brings people together. I can’t think of anything I would rather do than play football."
A five-star, all-state recruit in a suburb outside of Columbus, Cooper made the easy decision to stay home. He joined a jaw-dropping 2016 class that helped continue the Buckeyes' dominance. However, Cooper's path to the draft was more like a slalom course. He experienced a mixed bag of results. He played only 13 games his first two seasons, posting 22 tackles, but carved a role on special teams, a valuable trait as he attempts to stick on the Broncos' final 53-man roster. A breakout junior year — 25 tackles, 6.5 for a loss — set up a highly anticipated senior season.
But his race to stardom came with a limp. He suffered a nasty ankle sprain that limited him to four games, leading Cooper to return as a fifth-year redshirt. It paid dividends — not only was he captain, but he delivered a career high 3.5 sacks in eight games. Now, he and fellow Buckeyes rookie Baron Browning can learn from college teammate Dre'Mont Jones.
"I think playing at Ohio State will help me a tremendous amount, not just by going against the best of the best every day, but how diligent we were about being on time, weightlifting, eating right," Cooper said. "And having a guy like Dre'Mont there, he's someone I know very well. That will help."
Cooper, if only briefly, allows himself to relax by playing video games. And he listens to all types of music, including Kanye West. But football is his passion. It's what made him a captain, what drives him as he takes the next step on his journey.
"It's about earning respect and working hard," Cooper said. "I will handle myself like a pro and treat things very seriously."