Up Close: Jonathan Cooper, Part II

WILMINGTON, N.C. --- Jonathan Cooper's senior football season couldn't have gone any better. After helping Hoggard win the NCHSAA 4A state title, he was selected for the Shrine Bowl and named to the Associated Press' All-State Team.

"I'll just say I think 2007 was a great year," Cooper said. "It couldn't have ended any better."

Cooper's prep career didn't always seem so promising. The 6-foot-3, 305-pound offensive lineman began at Laney High School, a former title contender that had fallen on hard times.

"We dreamed about state championships when I was over at Laney," Cooper said. "We would talk about getting them, but we were never close to a state championship. Just to win it is a dream come true."

Cooper transferred to Hoggard in the middle of his sophomore season. The next summer, he moved into the starting left guard position.

That fall, Cooper's protected a Shrine Bowl quarterback, Brandon Miley, who threw for 2,615 yards and 29 touchdowns. He also helped pave the way for Rashad Williams to rush for nearly 1,500 yards and 20 touchdowns.

Hoggard walked through the regular season and into the NCHSAA 4A State Semi-Final game undefeated. However, a stout Greenville Rose team, which was on a 35-game win streak, edged Hoggard, 31-29.

"I remember when I lost that game I told my mom I wasn't playing football anymore," Cooper said with a laugh.

This past season, Hoggard was hit fairly hard by graduation but still fielded a strong squad. The Vikings defeated their opponents by almost a four-touchdown average.

"You see a team that wasn't as big as the one we had last year, not as fast, and lost a great quarterback, but everybody stepped up in the roles that we needed," Cooper said. "We definitely outdid my expectations."

In addition to anchoring Hoggard's offensive line, Cooper played on the punt and field goal units. Injuries forced him to also start at defensive end for the last six games.

"It was a gradual thing, because we really needed him on offense," said Hoggard assistant coach Keith Wood said. "We couldn't afford to lose him, so we tried to limit his downs on defense. But as he got conditioned [to play both ways], he started to play almost the whole game."

The devastating loss to Rose the previous season proved to be the inspiration Hoggard needed to get over the hump Cooper's senior year.

"I felt like our kids thought we should have won and knew we should have won," Wood said. "We had already been [to the state semi-finals] and the expectations were high from the kids."

Hoggard grinded down Winston-Salem Mount Tabor in the NCHSAA 4A Championship game, 28-0.

In Cooper's final high school game, the Shrine Bowl, injuries once again moved him to the D-line. For the Shrine Bowl, he played exclusively at nose tackle.

When Cooper arrives at UNC this summer, he will move back to the offensive side of the ball – for good.

"Coach Pittman said we need all the help we can get on the O-line," Cooper said. "Depending on how I do this summer, I could see playing time this year. But I'll red-shirt if necessary."

Cooper was recruited as an interior offensive lineman with an emphasis on center. He has no in-game snapping experience, but was regularly pull blocked, something Pittman frequently did with his interior lineman last fall.

"We pull our guards a lot," Wood said. "Jonathan runs a 5.05 [second] or under [40-yard dash], great feet, and just loves to run. I think he's going to be a good fit for UNC's offense."

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