The Tar Heels are having a little fun this offseason under first-year coach Larry Fedora, and I caught up with offensive guard Jonathan Cooper to chat about it. Cooper is one of four starters returning to an offensive line that has combined for 91 starts. It should be one of the best groups in the ACC. As for whether or not the 6-foot-3, 305-pound senior can play beach volleyball? Well, that’s a different story …
What have you guys been up to so far this summer?
Jonathan Cooper: It’s called the summer challenge, and it started with eight team captains who were selected and we had a mock draft where we picked players and it wasn’t based solely on talent, but guys who had the most character. I caught a lot of flack for the selection of my team because a lot of guys thought I picked the team that was less athletic.
Are you the team clown or what?
JC: I feel like I have a team full of hard workers, and guys who I know go to class and do the little things right, and that’s what I was looking for.
I like that.
JC: Yes, ma’am.
And how are you guys doing in this team challenge?
JC: The first game we played was whiffleball and our team ended up winning the tournament, and the next one was beach volleyball. We lost promptly in a double-elimination tournament.
Everybody has their strengths and weaknesses.
JC: There were a lot of weaknesses last week.
What else are you guys playing?
JC: I believe today’s event is ultimate Frisbee. I am looking forward to that, where I can show off my athleticism and my ability.
Just don’t pull a T.J. Yates.
JC: Yep, that’s what (sports information director Kevin Best) just said: Don’t get a quarterback’s finger broken.
Now is this something you guys always do, or is it a Fedora thing?
JC: It’s something new to us that coach Fedora brought with him. I believe it’s used to build team chemistry, get some competition brewing, and just have fun with one another. I do feel like it’s working out. It’s causing us to hold each other more accountable, not just with athletics but also in schoolwork. You lose more points by doing something of ill character than points you gain through athletic games.
Have I mentioned that offensive linemen are some of my favorite interviews because you guys are so smart and well-spoken?
It never fails. Congrats for keeping up that tradition. I also wanted to ask you about football. I hear you guys are supposed to be pretty good up front this year. What’s your take on how the line is going to look?
JC: I feel like as always here at UNC, we have great potential on the offensive line, but I like to remind our guys, potential just means you haven’t done anything yet. Hopefully we can fill those big shoes. If we can stay injury-free and work together, and get everyone in the playbook, I feel like we can do big things as an offensive front.
Have you ever thought about coaching? Because you sound a lot like a coach, too.
JC: Uh, I’ve thought about it, but once I have a family, I’d hate to be away from my wife and kids too much to coach.
Now see, those are the kinds of answers that separate you from the rest of the depth chart. You just don’t hear that from the wide receivers.
What about in terms of what you guys are playing for this season. Because of the NCAA sanctions you can’t play for the title, you can’t play for a bowl game. What’s your motivation this year?
JC: Our motivation is just to be the best team we can be and play for one another. Initially we were all disappointed and shocked that we were banned from a bowl, but I feel like it has brought us closer together. We have more of a team mentality and honestly just trying to get over the 8-5 hump. If we can produce and be better than an eight-win team, then I feel like we’ve taken a major step forward.
How different is what you guys are going to be doing under Fedora, specifically to the offensive line responsibilities?
JC: I feel like it’s going to be very different. The tempo is the main thing. This spring I was injured so I was watching most of it. I got a couple of practices under my belt, but that tempo, I think we ran double the amount of plays in one practice than we would in like a week of our old practices. That tempo is huge. On the offensive front, it’s more of an equalizer. With the old pro style you can get so many people in the box and they had time to scheme against us. Now, it’s up to the line, if the defense isn’t set, we’re rollin’. We have a call to make and just get down and go. It will level the playing field a little bit and show the offensive weapons that we’ve always had.
How excited are you guys to just move forward and have a new coach? To be able to get a fresh start and put all of the distractions of the NCAA stuff behind you guys?
JC: I think we’re very excited. Some people say this is the start of a new era and that we can be the ones to lay the foundation to a great change at UNC football and lead to the incline and get Carolina football back to where it used to be. I’m pretty excited to do that.