COLUMBUS — Mookie Cooper needed a new routine.
The chance to go practice every afternoon was gone. There was no need for film sessions, playbook studying and certainly no opportunities to actually go play the game he loves once he was ruled ineligible following his transfer for his senior season in high school.
So, the Ohio State commit filled some of that time with an emotional break every day in his car, both letting off steam and harnessing frustration to power through workouts with an eye on a day when he would finally be back on the field.
“No lie, I walked out of the office [after being ruled out], I just walked out and I cried for probably like four weeks straight,” Cooper said. “Like after school at the new school I went to, I was practicing with them for a little bit. Then they told me I couldn’t play, and then it was just like after school, I just go sit in the car and just sit there and just cry, then I go work out.
“That used to make me work harder. I used to cry a lot, though. I thought I was depressed for a moment.”
The easy smile is back on Cooper’s face now as he grinds through his first offseason with the Buckeyes, and there is probably nobody in that huge batch of early enrollees enjoying those grueling workouts more than Cooper after spending last season largely isolated away from a team.
Cooper mostly avoided any conversation about the decision that went against him back in Missouri, understandably so given how hard he took the news last October. But he clearly gained a new appreciation for every part of the game and how easily it can be taken away, which is still fueling him even months later as he gets started on his career at Ohio State.
There is nothing holding him back now. And that personal freedom is combining with a deep supply of confidence in his dynamic abilities as a potential slot receiver to make him one of the more intriguing offensive options on the roster heading into spring practice.
“Football can be taken away any time, and you got to still be productive with life,” Cooper said. “[Adversity] just proves how much a person really wants it. A lot of people, you got a year off of not doing something, certain people they might just sit around, have fun with it. It just tell you how much you really want it, what you’re coming for.
“Like I used to count down every day on my Snapchat, I’d post: ‘How many days left?’ But once it got to like the 30-day mark, like the first day of December, signing day was coming up, I started feeling more at ease because I was just getting closer to getting here. So it was more like: All right, this phase of my life is getting over with. … This is what I’ve been waiting for.”
The Buckeyes have been waiting for a player in the Cooper mold for a couple years as well, and there’s growing belief that he could become the kind of Rondale Moore or Wan’Dale Robinson-type weapon that they’ve been trying to sign in the H-back role.
Those are certainly lofty comparisons, particularly for a player coming off a season where he didn’t play at all. But it’s not like Cooper is coming off an injury that kept him from developing physically, and he’s always been able to prepare for the transition knowing the kind of role that was waiting for him with the Buckeyes.
“Mookie is a smaller guy, but he’s really stocky,” wide receiver coach Brian Hartline said. “When he goes to block, he tries to knock you out — that’s one of the biggest things I loved about him. He can do stuff from the speed sweeps to plays down the field, and he does a lot. He played a little more running back than receiver at times, and there might be a transition there.
“Overall, I think with sitting out his senior year there’s more to find out, but he’s got the skill set through the roof.”
The motivation couldn’t get any higher, either.
And now that the tears are dry, the Ohio State freshman doesn’t have much interest in wasting time.
“I feel like a lot of people lost hope or whatever in me playing,” Cooper said. “But I mean, we’re here now. I’m still here, I’m still working with everybody else, so they’ll just have to see whenever they catch it.
“I just want to help as much as I can. I know our wide receiver room is big, but I’m just going to work on busting my tail every day.”
That’s the kind of daily routine Mookie Cooper has no problem embracing.