Then he went about showing just how good it was.
Cooper coached four players at Ohio State from within the borders of the state who would go on to win national awards – Sandusky's Orlando Pace (Outland and Lombardi), Columbus' own Terry Glenn (Biletnikoff), Westerville's Andy Katzenmoyer (Butkus) and Akron's Antoine Winfield (Thorpe) – and won a Rose Bowl and Sugar Bowl while on his way to induction into the College Football Hall of Fame.
Having grown up in Tennessee and also coached in the Big 8, Pac-10 and SEC, Cooper knows just how good prep football is around the nation, and he knows just how good it is in Ohio.
"This is as good as you'll find, it really is," Cooper said. "Because of the numbers game, population wise, there's more players in Texas, more in California, more in Florida because more people live there, but I'll tell you what. I was looking this afternoon through some of the programs that I have from when I coached here. I mean, it doesn't get any better than Orlando Pace and Andy Katzenmoyer and Bobby Hoying and Mike Vrabel and Luke Fickell and Korey Stringer. Are you kidding me?
"There's great high school players in this state and there's great high school coaching in the state of Ohio. That's why Ohio State is clearly in the top five coaching jobs in the country – because of high school football."
That continues to be proven by the NFL draft – outside of the big three states of California, Florida and Texas, Ohio acquits itself well in the annual selection show – and is one reason why the sport is so popular across the state, from Cincinnati to Cleveland and Amanda to Zanesville.
And now, the crown jewel of Ohio high school football – the seven state championship games to be held during the first weekend of December – is on its way to Columbus for the first time in more than two decades.
Ohio Stadium will host the games – which have been held in Massillon and Canton – this year as part of a two-year trial. It has been a controversial decision to some given the excellent hosting done by the Stark County sites and the massive size of the venue in the capital city, but the central location and the chance for high school students from across the state to play in the venerable Horseshoe have added some new excitement to the proceedings going into 2014.
Adding to that excitement is the creation of the Gridiron Gang, a group of 50 businessmen and community ambassadors put together by the Greater Columbus Sports Commission to help 5,000 sell all-session passes to the games.
Moving the games to Columbus was pushed for by former OSU head coach Jim Tressel, and Cooper and former OSU head coach Earle Bruce, another College Football Hall of Famer, are on board as well. The latter two spoke Wednesday evening to the Gridiron Gang, hoping to keep alive the momentum the championships are creating.
"I think the excitement for this is unbelievable and it's going to make the year – we already hear people saying, ‘I can't hardly wait for August. I can't hardly wait for the season,' " OHSAA commissioner Dr. Dan Ross said. "The vitality that this group has brought has been a good thing for not only our organization but our kids in our schools."
For Bruce – who entertained Gridiron Gang members with a 15-minute talk about his high school coaching days, including his time at Massillon Washington – one of the biggest draws will be the chance for prepsters to suit up in Ohio Stadium.
"If you have any ambition to play in big-time football, you have to look at that stadium and say, ‘This is big-time football. This is where I want to go,' " said Bruce, who was recruited to play at OSU after growing up in western Maryland. "I had the opportunity to go other places, but that was the biggest stadium I saw, and when I looked into that thing I said, ‘I think I can run through the closed end of the stadium if they give me the ball.' I was all jacked up."
All-session passes are the only tickets currently available for the games at $105 per ticket and give fans admittance to each of the seven division championships. They go will have priority seating location before tickets go on-sale to the general public in October. To purchase all-session passes, To purchase, contact Brian Timm at email@example.com or visit http://go.osu.edu/OHSAAFBTix and use the promo code GRID1.
The highest-attended game a year ago had 7,126 fans, and organizers are hopeful to top that mark and also provide a new experience for players from around the state.
"It would be wonderful if there was a great crowd in there to make them appreciate that a little bit more, but the most important thing is we want them to have a great experience while they are here," Ross said. "I think Columbus is very used to hosting events. They're going to embrace it and the people that come here and make them feel at home, and they're going to make them feel very comfortable and hopefully they'll want to come back."