Indiana’s havoc-creating defense is built on bodies who fit into multiple positions and positions that are creatively named because they aren’t part of a standard lineup like the Husky, the Bull and the Stinger. Many defensive players arrive in Bloomington not sure where exactly they’ll fit, and both they and their coaches kind of like it that way.
But there are still some players in each class who fit a prototype, who fit in exactly one spot and fit it perfectly. Cooper Jones is one of those players.
The former Valparaiso star is listed at 6-foot-6, 270 pounds, and even though he doesn’t exactly have all 270 of that yet, he’s on his way in that direction with two months still to go until opening day. In every way, he fits the mold of a hand-in-the-ground defensive end, so that’s the obvious spot where he’s working so far.
“As of now, I’ve been repping with the ends,” Jones said on a Zoom press conference last week. “That’s kind of where coach (Kevin) Peoples has told me to focus on right now. All the ends have been super accepting, super nice, kind of put their arms around me and helped me learn the playbook and learn the position because I’ve got a lot to learn.”
He does, simply because he’s operating at a different level now, but he was dominant there at the high school level with just about every tool for the position a player could ask for. Combined in his past two seasons at Valparaiso, he recorded 190 tackles, 28 for loss, 17.5 sacks, four fumble recoveries, three blocked kicks and two defensive touchdowns. In his senior season alone he had 80 tackles, 12.5 for loss and 5.5 sacks. In each of those seasons, he was named all-state and an IFCA Mr. Football position award winner.
There wasn’t much necessary for the job that he didn’t have.
“The biggest thing is what everyone can see just by shaking hands with him or watching him from a distance,” Valparaiso coach Bill Marshall said. “Just the sheer size. The length of his arms, the leverage that he plays with. That’s what made him so successful at the high school level along with his energy and his enthusiasm that he brought to every practice and every game.”
The size comes from genetics. His father Eric Jones also played defensive end at Notre Dame in the early 90s and his mother Kassey played softball at Indiana from 1993-96. From them, he and his younger brother Mason got length, athleticism and especially desire.
“They really ingrained in the boys a sense of intrinsic motivation,” Marshall said. “Those are things that as coaches, you can’t necessarily teach because by the time they get to you they either have it or they don’t in terms of intrinsic versus extrinsic motivation. The biggest thing, I don’t know if it could be passed down, is just a motor. Something that never stops. Especially when he was younger, he would beat people because he never stopped. He’d just keep going and throughout a game, he would wear you down, because it just seemed like there was this untapped energy that just kept coming from him.”
Jones channeled that energy into not just football but also academics and basketball. He carried a 4.0 at Valparaiso and was a four-year letterman on the court. He even played baseball as a true freshman and only left that because he didn’t have time for everything.
The other two sports were good for fueling his competitive drive and for keeping him in good condition, but basketball in particular made it hard to keep weight on. He played at between 245 and 250 pounds at Valparaiso and would usually be at the smaller end of that during basketball season, having to build back up for football. Since the end of basketball season, however, he’s focused on putting on weight and Marshall said he’s up to 260 pounds.
“I think the big thing for him was to put on some more solid mass,” Marshall said. “Especially in the bottom half. His glutes, his quads, his hamstrings are where he put a tremendous amount of weight on, just because coming off of basketball which is a lot of running and going into football season puts a lot of stress on the body. He committed himself to the weight room and to the conditioning as well.”
The Hoosiers return a starter at defensive end in James Head Jr., and Ole Miss transfer Ryder Anderson should get playing time there as well, but because Jones is such a good fit for the spot he might not be far from competing for playing time.
“All those guys are men and they’re moving fast,” Jones said. “It’s a process. It’s going to take me some time to adjust to it. The conditioning has been good. From the time I started to now, I’ve improved. It’s going to be constant improvement. There’s a level that some of those guys are at, but as long as I keep working I’m confident I can get to that level.”
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