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'He's a guy that could play on Sundays': Valparaiso star Cooper Jones chooses Indiana
College football

'He's a guy that could play on Sundays': Valparaiso star Cooper Jones chooses Indiana

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Cooper Jones -- Valparaiso/Indiana

Valparaiso standout Cooper Jones verbally committed to Indiana on Thursday night. He is a three-star recruit and the No. 6 prospect in the state, according to Rivals.

Cooper Jones is only 17, but he’s as old school as they come.

Valparaiso’s standout defensive lineman isn’t interested in the publicity he receives as one of the top prospects in the state. The 6-foot-6, 245-pound junior just keeps to himself, his family and his team.

“He’s the type of kid, he’ll never take anything for granted. He will continue to work hard,” Vikings coach Bill Marshall said. “He says it all of the time, as do many of our players, ‘You gotta stay humble and hungry.’”

Even as a high school student, Jones hardly uses social media. However, he broke his silence Thursday night by verbally committing to Indiana on Twitter. The junior shared a picture of himself in Hoosiers gear when he announced his decision, and it was just the fourth tweet from his account.

Valparaiso's Cooper Jones verbally commits to Indiana

His first three posts were retweets about his coach and teammates. None of them were regarding his scholarship offers from Indiana, Iowa, Ohio State, Michigan, Central Michigan and Purdue.

“The schools that were talking to me knew that I was interested, so I didn’t feel like everyone else needed to know,” Jones said. “Obviously, the people who are most important to me knew where I was leaning. And then when it was time to make a decision, that’s when I thought everyone else should know.”

For as quiet as Jones was during his recruiting process, his play on the field was the exact opposite. In the fall, the junior wreaked havoc at the line of scrimmage and imposed his will all season long. He recorded 56 tackles, five tackles for loss, six sacks, one pass deflection, one blocked punt, two forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries — including a 46-yard scoop-and-score in a Class 5A sectional championship victory over LaPorte.

Lake Central at Valparaiso football

Valparaiso's Cooper Jones reacts after sacking Lake Central's Mateo Cedano during the Vikings' 44-14 home victory on Oct. 18, 2019.

That type of production, especially while being double- and triple-teamed, only added to Jones’ stock. According to Rivals and Verizon Media recruiting analyst Josh Helmholdt, who has been evaluating top prospects in the Midwest for nearly 15 years, securing a player of his caliber was a huge grab for Indiana’s 2021 recruiting class.

Jones is rated as a three-star recruit by Rivals and the No. 6 prospect in the state. He is also ranked as the No. 20 strong side defensive end in the country.

“When you have both length and athleticism, the ability to gain leverage against 6-foot-6, 6-foot-7 offensive tackles but then also have that agility and athleticism to be able to out-quick offensive lineman, it really makes you a valuable prospect,” Helmholdt said. “It’s why guys like Jadeveon Clowney and Mario Williams are so highly valued at the NFL level, and that skill set is there for Cooper.

“If he maximizes his potential, he’s a guy that could play on Sundays.”

Marshall was a four-year starter on the defensive line at Valparaiso University in the early 2000s and is gearing up for his 15th season on the Valparaiso high school football staff. As a former Division I player himself, he called Jones one of the most gifted athletes to come through his program.

In his freshman season, Jones took several reps in practice with the varsity team, and Marshall doesn’t think that should be overlooked. By learning from the upperclassmen ahead of him and squaring off against older teammates, Marshall said Jones gained invaluable experience that helped him excel as a sophomore and junior.

“He played sparingly because we had a very, very stout defensive line when he was a freshman, but he still started on JV for us as freshman,” Marshall said. “To make a jump from middle school football to repping in with the varsity, not only is there a physical gap that many kids are lacking in, but there’s also the maturity. He had all of those things. … It also doesn’t hurt to have a great family that supports you and a dad who played D-line at Notre Dame.”

Eric Jones competed for the Irish in the early 1990s under the guidance of College Football Hall of Fame coach Lou Holtz. Cooper Jones thanked his father for dedicating countless hours and molding him into a better player. He also gave credit to his mother, Kassey (Reynolds) Jones, for his athleticism and competitiveness. The Indiana Softball Hall of Fame member played at Portage and Indiana, and Cooper Jones said it is an honor to be following in her footsteps.

Before heading to Bloomington, the junior hopes to finish off his prep career with another memorable campaign. Last year, Valparaiso advanced to the state championship for the first time in 18 seasons and lost 27-20 in the Class 5A state championship to two-time defending state champion New Palestine. In order to have another shot at history, he believes the Vikings must continue to give their best effort every day.

“Two years ago, we fell four points short of going to state against Carmel,” Cooper Jones said. “Last year, we fell short of winning state, so there’s a lot guys in the program right now who know what it takes to get there and how much harder we need to work.”

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Lake County Sports Reporter

James Boyd is the Lake County prep sports reporter for The Times. He is a graduate of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and a proud native of Romeoville, Illinois. Before anything else, his main goal in life is to spread love and light.

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