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'Those heart surgeries were just another obstacle in my way': After getting through 'scary' offseason, Jonathon Cooper has sights set on making Broncos' roster

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — For most late-round draft picks, a training camp practice like the one Jonathon Cooper enjoyed Tuesday could be labeled as strong yet unspectacular.

Cooper recorded a tackle for loss, was physical against the run and may have recorded a sack under game conditions. It was a solid performance, one that Cooper should be able to build off to compete for a roster spot behind Von Miller, Bradley Chubb and Malik Reed at outside linebacker.

Cooper, though, isn't a typical seventh-round pick simply searching for a roster spot. A little more than two months ago, Cooper underwent a procedure that — had it not gone according to plan — could have ended his professional career before it began.

The Ohio State product underwent surgery in May after a pre-draft electrocardiogram detected a rare heart condition that required a cardiac ablation, which creates tiny scars in the heart to restore a normal heartbeat. Cooper underwent two ablations in high school, but the most recent surgeries were more invasive. Cooper said the doctors performed three separate ablations — over the course of eight hours — and the stakes of the procedure were high.

"It was scary at some point," Cooper said Tuesday. "It was pretty rare what was going on, and the doctors had a hard time getting in and taking care of it. There was even some talks of a pacemaker at some point. Thanks to God I'm here. My family supported me. The doctors did an amazing job, and I'm just blessed to be out here. I don't take a second for granted."

Due to the physical contact that's second nature in football, a pacemaker would have forced Cooper to retire from the game.

Cooper — whose condition was shared with NFL teams ahead of the draft — joined the Broncos after falling to the seventh round of the draft. The team selected him with their penultimate selection, and he should have a chance to make the team's roster.

"Obviously things kind of went the way that they did, but I'm just blessed that the Broncos took an opportunity on me," Cooper said. "Just getting that phone call in the first place was a great time for me and my family. I have my opportunity, I have my shot, and I'm just going to take advantage of it."

He's also now healthy enough to make that impact. Cooper missed the team's rookie minicamp and was restrained to the sideline for most of the Broncos' offseason program. He remained in Denver for two weeks following the end of the program to adjust to the altitude and work on conditioning, and he said he now "feels great" as he begins his first training camp.

Through days like the one he had Tuesday, Cooper has impressed the Broncos' coaching staff.

"I've liked what I've seen from him," Head Coach Vic Fangio said Tuesday. "He naturally plays hard. Some guys have to push themselves to play hard, but it comes natural to him, which is nice. He's got good strength, and I think he's got good football instincts and IQ."

Cooper's path to the roster will likely mandate that he contribute on special teams, and he said he's willing to help the team in any way he's asked.

"Just contribute to this team in anyway that I can," Cooper said of his goals. "Special teams, on the field [on defense] — whatever they ask me to do, I'm willing to do it and give 110 percent at it. That's my whole goal is just to get better every single day, learn this new position and [learn from] the people before me."

Miller, Chubb and Reed should all serve as resources for the former Buckeye, who posted 10 career sacks and 15 tackles for loss during his five years at Ohio State.

"He's a legend," Cooper said of Miller. "It's really cool. I've been watching him since I was a kid. I get to see a Hall of Famer right there across from me and just study from him and learn from him. It's just been really cool. I feel that way about all those guys: Von, Chubb, Malik Reed. I watch all those guys as like big brothers, role models that I can take from and learn from and become better."

And while Cooper's path to the 53-man roster will not be without challenges, they seem to pale in comparison to the difficulties he has already overcome.

"I've been through a lot of adversity in my life, and all I know is those heart surgeries were just another obstacle in my way, but I knew I could overcome them," Cooper said. "Me being out here and being with this amazing program and team is proof of that again. I just give thanks to God."

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