While the support of many local football fans will be in the Carolina Panthers’ corner during the NFC Championship game on Sunday, one local product will be on the opposite sideline for Arizona Cardinals.
It has to seem like forever since NFL Draft Day 2013, when Wilmington native Jonathan Cooper was selected with the seventh overall pick.
Injuries have delayed the start of what’s still expected to be a promising NFL career, with Cooper’s latest setback earlier this season when Coach Bruce Arians decided to go with veteran guard Ted Larsen as a starter, which relegated Cooper to a back-up role on the depth chart. Cooper started through week 10, but did not return to the lineup after getting nicked up, missing games against Cincinnati and San Francisco.
Cooper “politely passed” a request this week for an interview, but his former high school coach Scott Braswell shared his thoughts on Cooper, who played for and won a state championship at Hoggard in 2007.
“Jonathan worked his rear-end off to get ready for this year and won the job,” Braswell said. “[I] thought he was doing well. He had a little bit of tweaked injury and [I] thought it opened the door for them to bring in a more experienced player.”
Cooper’s time in the NFL has been marred by injuries, with a lot of challenges to overcome in a relatively short time.
Living up to the expectations of a top 10 pick as the highest selected offensive guard since the 1986 draft has to be a tough thing in the National Football League.
After a durable start to his football years, first at Hoggard and then at North Carolina where he was an All-American, Cooper has had minor health setbacks through the last few NFL years.
Despite the frustration Cooper may be feeling, Braswell said his former player’s positive outlook and determination to get better keeps him focused as the league is one injury away from playing the next snap at the highest level.
“He’s in a good place mentally right now and I think [he] struggled with it initially, just working right now to be the best player he can be for his next opportunity,” Braswell said. “He’s such a good kid and very conscientious, well-grounded. I don’t know if some of the ways they were trying to coach him up were the best approach.
“There’s no doubt the NFL is a business and sometimes the narrative within an organization might not be best suited for a player and from 1,000 miles away that looks to be the case in Arizona.”
Braswell knows it’s the good foundation both from a physical and mental standpoint that will ultimately help Cooper through his current situation as a professional football player.
“He’s so positive and has always been about getting things right from a technique standpoint,” said Braswell. [He’s] a student of the game and very powerful. He’s got a good strong base as a lineman and a high character guy. No matter where Jonathan ends up playing, he will be a huge asset to any organization because of his deep-rooted faith and belief.”