Center of Attention

True freshman Jon Cooper finds himself in a starting spot and getting high praise from his coaches.

Back in August, OU run game coordinator and offensive line coach Kevin Wilson said that Jon Cooper was the very best young offensive lineman he had ever coached and he predicted big things for Ft. Collins, Colorado native.

Now eight games into the season, Wilson's opinion of Cooper has not changed one bit. And in fact, now that Cooper is playing his opinion of Cooper has improved.

"I can't think of another freshman or young offensive lineman that I have coached who is better than Jon," said Wilson. "He is the best center prospect that I have ever coached, but he can be a tremendous offensive lineman at either center or guard. We have been playing him at guard because of our situation in the offensive line and because I didn't want to change centers on Rhett, who is not very comfortable under center anyway.

"Jon plays with good technique, he has good strength and he plays with an aggressive attitude. If Jon progresses like we expect, he has a chance to be one of the best offensive lineman to ever play here and be a first round draft choice before he is through.

"However, he has to continue to work hard. He has to work to get better and do the proper things to ensure that he gets the most out of his talent. But if does just that then he can be an anchor for our offensive line for the next three years."

Cooper has alternated at right guard with redshirt freshman J.D. Quinn since the Texas game and he has played very well. When senior center Chris Bush broke his right hand in the fourth quarter against Nebraska, Cooper moved over from guard to center and didn't miss a beat. Now with the injury, Bush is going to have to play guard and Cooper, along with senior Chris Chester, will play center.

Chester was the starting center before a knee injury put him on the shelf for the past three weeks, and before the injury he was playing well. In fact, the pro scouts that visit the OU coaching staff have told Wilson that they feel that next to Davin Joseph, that Chester is the next best pro prospect and a certain draftee in the upcoming NFL draft.

Chester did go through some drills this past week and he is expected to pick up the pace next week and play against Texas A&M. However, he won't start against the Aggies because that responsibility will fall to Cooper. Yes, Chester is considered an excellent pro prospect at center or guard, but Cooper is the player that Wilson will start at center.

Recently, I had a chance to sit down with Cooper and talk about his opportunity.

JH: You have played guard all season, but against Nebraska you had a chance to play your natural position (center). What was that like for you?

JC: "It was a good experience for me. I practice a lot at center and I get plenty of reps at center at practice. I only got a few reps at center against Kansas State, but at least I got those because I wanted to find out what it was like to play center in the Big 12 Conference. Here at Oklahoma, center is where I feel I can make a good impact."

JH: So center is the position that you would really like to play?

JC: "I don't know if it is the position that I would like to play, but it is the position that I see myself at. I like playing guard and I think I can come off harder. Center it is basically the same position, but I am snapping the ball.

JH: You are a true freshman playing away from home at the University of Oklahoma. What is it like for you?

JC: "It is all football and school. They keep you real busy. They keep you in class, study hall and in football. You don't have much free time, but when you do it is with your teammates. It is hard to be so far away from home, but it is a good experience for me."

JH: The coaches seem so high on you and they feel your future is bright. So I would guess that you like your future here at OU as well?

JC: "Oh yeah, I do. I see a bright future for myself here at OU. I look forward to the next few years because I have people from back home telling me all the time that it is great that I am playing as a true freshman in the offensive line. They keep pumping me and getting me excited about my future here at OU."

JH: How did you become so technically sound so early in your career?

JC: "All that credit goes to my dad, who has been my coach forever. He has always preached technique, technique, technique. All that credit goes to my dad."

JH: So the big difference for you between center and guard is that you can come off harder at guard?

JC: "I feel that way, especially now as a young player because I don't have to think so much at guard. You also get help at guard from the center and I feel I can get more of a lean off the snap, because I have my hand on the ground and I can just come off a little harder."

JH: What has it been like playing on the D-1 level for you?

JC: "It has been amazing, I love it. The speed of the game is so fast, but you get used to it. You realize that you are moving just as fast as some of these great athletes. It is just a great experience and I love playing."

JH: You have two weeks to get ready to play center for the Texas A&M game, and I am sure you are looking forward to that?

JC: "Coach Wilson has told me that I am No. 1 right now because Chester is just coming off an injury. I don't know how he is going to handle his injury right away, which is basically the same injury that I had. So I am prepared to go in and play a lot right now at center."

JH: This line seems to have come together in the last four to five weeks?

JC: "Yeah, we have come together real well. We have figured out how each other plays, and our combo blocks are coming off real well. We are doing a great job together."

JH: Rhett has gotten better getting the snap under center, but you two still have to get it down don't you?

JC: "Oh, yeah. That is a lot of pressure, but we have been working all year on it. I am not too worried about it. I just hope I don't get to anxious and snap one over his head. I don't think that is going to happen."

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