Playing at the University of Cincinnati during the last five years, Mt. Carmel alum Jeremy Cooper tried to make the best of trying times.
In 2019, he suffered a serious knee injury that forced him to miss the rest of the year. A year later, his grandmother died in fall 2020 as the season began amidst the COVID-19 pandemic.
Nonetheless, Cooper wouldn’t let anything slow him down as he worked toward his ultimate goal of playing in the NFL.
His journey continued on May 6-8, when Cooper, a 2018 Mt. Carmel graduate, participated in the Kansas City Chiefs’ rookie minicamp.
“It was a long process to get here and a long time coming. A lot of long days, but I’m thankful for the position I’m in now,” Cooper said. “I know the hard work will pay off, and I’ll be able to showcase my talent in front. The Chiefs were one of the first teams to reach out to me.”
Cooper, a 6’2”, 320-pound offensive lineman, grew up in the Chatham neighborhood and was a star for the Caravan.
At Cincinnati, after a turbulent first three seasons in 2018-2020, Cooper settled in for the Bearcats in a big way over his final two years.
In 2021, he started all 14 games at left guard as Cincy advanced to the College Football Playoff. Then, last season, he appeared in all 12 games and made eight starts.
“The 2021 season, that was probably my favorite time I’ve ever played football,” Cooper said. “We advanced to the playoff, and it was just a great team. For me, I played really well against Indiana, Alabama and Notre Dame. I had so many good moments at Cincinnati that helped me get here now.”
After that rough three years, Cooper was afforded some sense of normalcy in the next two seasons.
After redshirting his freshman year in which he played four games, Cooper came back in 2019, started the team’s first four games and then suffered a season-ending injury in a runaway win over Marshall.
“I tore my medial patellofemoral ligament in my left knee. It was our first drive, and we were about to score,” Cooper said. “Our running back kind of collided with me, and my knee just buckled. I knew something had happened.”
Much of his rehab was done at home as the COVID-19 pandemic broke out in spring 2020. He headed home to Chicago to get as much work done as possible on his own.
“It was a tough process coming back, but I relied on the training staff and my family to help me get through it,” Cooper said. “I was working out at home, but when I came back, I felt good.”
In September 2020, his grandmother died just after the start of the delayed season. After Cincinnati defeated Army 24-10 on Sept. 26, 2020, Cooper drove home to Chicago to mourn with family.
“Her funeral was right after the Army game, so I drove back the four hours to Chicago,” Cooper said. “That was a really hard time for me. Everything since then, I’ve dedicated to her. What I’m doing now [as a pro], it’s still for her.”
Cooper has embraced the challenge of making it in the NFL. He had a handful of busy months leading up to the NFL Draft, which was held April 27-29 in Kansas City. Those months included Pro Days, workouts and meetings with several teams.
Heading into the Chiefs’ minicamp, Cooper knew how to stand out.
“Whether you’re a first-year or second-year guy or an eight-year veteran, you’ve got to prove yourself,” Cooper said. “For me, that’s how it’s been since high school. It doesn’t change as a football player. It’s definitely fuel for the fire for me.”
Cooper said he grew up playing football and always played on both the offensive and defensive line.
It was during his career at Mt. Carmel that he played exclusively on offensive line. As Cooper now strives to make the Chiefs’ roster, he’s confident in his abilities.
He said he admires and models his game after pros such as Shaq Mason (Houston Texans) and Nate Davis (Chicago Bears).
“I’m a really solid blue-collar guy. I love to work, and I’m dedicated to my craft,” Cooper said. “I’m always trying to learn about myself as an individual and help the team any way I can. I’m a team player and understand the game in and out, and I’m a student of the game. I’ll talk to the veterans and the older guys. I’m hungry and ready to play.”
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