Originally, Cooper, a 6-foot-3, 305-pound offensive lineman from Wilmington (N.C.) Hoggard, planned to announce his collegiate decision a couple of days after his third and final official trip. His unexpected dilemma postponed those plans.
"I think it was just a hard decision for him," Hoggard assistant coach Keith Wood said. "North Carolina has some great coaches – Coach [Butch] Davis, Coach [Sam] Pittman – and they just recruited him real hard and they're just great guys. Wake Forest has a great staff. South Carolina with Coach [Steve] Spurrier and Coach [Brad] Lawing, who used to be at North Carolina, they did a good job.
"I just think it was a real tough decision for Jonathan to decide ACC or SEC, in-state or out-of-state."
While all three coaching staffs awaited his decision, Pittman and Lawing even made cameos at one of Cooper's wrestling matches hoping to improve their chances.
Cooper discussed and evaluated his options with family members for roughly three days before deciding to become a Tar Heel.
"It was more like having everybody talk to me about it," Cooper said. "I sat down and had a conversation with my family. My mom was saying ‘Go where you want do.' My dad really wanted me to go to Wake Forest, but I just knew I wanted to go to Carolina."
Cooper revealed that he didn't have a favorite heading into his official visit schedule – all three schools were even. However, his UNC official visit put the Tar Heels above his other two finalists.
"All the players – they were all together in the same places," Cooper said of the Tar Heel team on his visit. "If there was a group of players here and a group of players there, once they passed each other everybody was speaking to each other.
"And then we were at one player's house and he was talking about how all the young guys were stepping up, fussing at the team about how they wanted to be a better program, and get it together. It just motivated me, to see how motivated the team was."
Despite his impressive experience in Chapel Hill – and rumors suggesting otherwise – Cooper says he never verbally committed to UNC during his visit – "silent" or not.
While several factors went into his final decision, Cooper's bond with Pittman, his primary recruiter and future position coach, played the biggest role.
"Coach Sam Pittman, he is a great recruiter," Cooper said. "I knew I could say ‘no' to the other two coaches and they'd understand. But Coach Pittman, he wouldn't understand if I said ‘no.'"
Helping UNC's chances was recently committed Kevin Reddick, who has befriended Cooper during the last few months of the recruiting process.
"He made [the decision] on his own," Reddick said. "I just told him, ‘You know what's best for you.' I could see it in him that he was going to commit to [North] Carolina, though.
"When I went up on my [official] visit, we were chilling. He came to my room and we talked then. I knew he was going to commit [to UNC]."
Cooper headed into the summer with scholarship offers from Buffalo and East Carolina. He would earn offers from Duke, UNC, NC State, South Carolina, and Wake Forest at each school's respective camps.
In August, Cooper named UNC, South Carolina, and Wake Forest as his three favorites and never altered his stance.
Check back Friday for Part II ...