Last week, I had the chance to talk to Cooper and fellow former Ohio State coach and College Football Hall of Famer Earle Bruce before they addressed the Gridiron Gang that is supporting the move of the Ohio high school football finals to Columbus and Ohio Stadium.
Cooper was there to discuss the great high school football played in Ohio, and he certainly did so, if you read the above article.
But the man who took Ohio State recruiting nationwide – and now does some work with the Cincinnati Bengals – was also ready to prove a point.
"We have to catch up a little bit," he said. "I do a little work for the Bengals, and the pro players are coming out of warm weather, particularly the skilled athletes. With the 7-on-7, there's a lot of quarterbacks as well now and running backs coming out of Florida, Texas, California, Georgia and Louisiana. We're slipping a little bit from that standpoint. The Big Ten has not had a lot of people in the draft the last two, three, four years."
So was Cooper stumping for the addition of spring football in Ohio? Well, yes, and the ever loquacious coach had his reasons why ready to go.
"I think it would be great," he said. "I don't think any coaches are going to object to spring football. Now, we've been saying that for a long time. You gotta teach a kid sometime how to tackle, take the head out of the game. You have to teach him fundamentals at an early age. I don't think there's any question that most coaches would be for spring practice, a limited amount of contact. We're not talking about going out there and beating one another up, but 7-on-7 camps where you throw and catch and teach a kid these fundamentals because when you get in college, you only got 20 hours a week, and then you get in the pros, they only practice in pads 14 times a season. It ain't like it used to be. You have to learn it as a kid."
It won't be happening any time soon, it appears, though. Dr. Dan Ross, commissioner of the Ohio High School Athletic Association, said recently that spring football isn't coming to the state, though there might be a loosening of the rules so that college coaches can see more recruits work out.
What seems like a straightforward topic actually has quite a bit of nuance. Ross said that spring football won't be coming because he doesn't want to lose athletes in sports like baseball and track, and there's definitely something to be said for kids getting the chance to broaden their horizons by taking part in other sports during the spring – something Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer seems to understand and appreciate.
But there are plenty of reasons for spring football as well, and some of it has to do with athletes getting the chance to be coached more often by their high school mentors, as both Meyer and Cooper alluded to. There are other practical advantages, too, especially when it comes to college coaches who would get the chance to evaluate the high school talent more often – right now, Ohio State's coaches are able to see and get comfortable with Florida prospects more than players in their own backyard.
And Cooper also brings up another point – Ohio, in some ways, is falling behind when it comes to NFL talent. The state is still among the top five in the nation when it comes to sending players to the pros, but it lags strongly behind some southeastern (Florida), southern (Texas) and western (California) brethren.
But Cooper has noticed a more specific trend that he finds worrying – this year, the Buckeye State simply didn't produce the skill position players as other states. Of the players to be drafted from Ohio this year, only one – Ball State's Keith Wenning, who hails from Coldwater – was picked as a quarterback. No running backs from Ohio were chosen, and just one wideout and one tight end (Indiana teammates Cody Latimer of Dayton and Ted Bolser of Cincinnati) were picked in the seven rounds of the draft. Suffice it to say, at the skill positions, the numbers were much bigger in Florida, Texas and California.
Would spring football improve those stats? There's no way to tell for sure. Places like California, Florida and Texas have better weather and more people, two factors that pretty strongly point to better odds of having more prospects in the draft.
But at the end of the day, Cooper thinks it wouldn't hurt. In the meantime, Ohio State – a school at which 10 of its last 19 first-round picks have come from out of state – will have to keep looking elsewhere for some of its top talent.
"Urban is recruiting nationwide," Cooper said. "He's gone nationwide, and you have to. I think you can win eight, nine, maybe 10 games a year with Ohio players, but here, that's not good enough. They let you go at 9-3 around here. You gotta go where the players are."