From his very first game at Penn State in 2015, when his redshirt was removed after the two linebackers playing ahead of him were injured, to the last game of that season when he started at the TaxSlayer Bowl and made a career-high six tackles, Jake Cooper saw no limits to what he could achieve.

Dreams, however, have a way of being sidetracked. After playing in 12 games as a freshman, Cooper has seen action in just 13 games in the two years since, experiencing setback after setback because of injuries. Most involved his left shoulder, which he first dislocated in 2012 when he played for Archbishop Wood.

Such repeated disappointments could sap the spirit and energy of almost anyone, but Cooper has managed to stay positive amid all the setbacks.

"It definitely was a challenge," said the 6-foot-1, 231-pound Cooper, of Doylestown, who is part of a wide-open competition at middle and weak-side linebacker in training camp. "Religion came in pretty big right there, and it still does. However, my family was huge, played a huge role.

"My sister, my dad, my mom, my two younger brothers, they look up to me. Without them, I wouldn't be where I am today."

Still, it's been difficult for the family to watch at times, especially for Mike Cooper, Jake's father.

"He's just been banged up and never got a break," said the elder Cooper, who played quarterback at Lincoln High. "Every time he gets rolling and back again, gets back into the groove, something happens to him. It's tough.

"He's a pretty positive kid. You don't dwell on anything like that. You can't. It's just, 'OK, this is what happened, this is what we've got to do, get it fixed, and then you rehab it.' He's very strong mentally, very cerebral on the field."

Penn State linebacker Jake Cooper (33) in action against Michigan in 2016.
Tony Ding/AP file photo
Penn State linebacker Jake Cooper (33) in action against Michigan in 2016.

The support system for Cooper also includes many of his father's friends from the old Tacony neighborhood in Northeast Philadelphia, where Mike Cooper grew up. Asked how many, Mike Cooper said with a chuckle, "There must have been 50 of us," and he stays in touch with many of them.

One friend who has been close with Jake Cooper is Bob Mizia, who played football for Temple under Wayne Hardin in the mid-1970s, and who also wore No. 33, Cooper's number.

"Mr. Mizia has been unbelievable," Cooper said. "I talk to him a lot. I actually had lunch with him when I was home before the start of camp, telling me to treat camp like high school and have fun. To have his support means the world to me. It's people like that coming along the way, and it's awesome."

Cooper's dad loves the support his friends give his son.

"Those guys I grew up with and I've been around my whole life, to be able to have my kids know them, and for these guys to interact with my kids, that's the important thing to me," he said.

After suffering a foot injury late in spring practice, Cooper is back to full speed and fighting for playing time among the crowd at linebacker. He said his shoulder "feels as healthy as it's felt in a long time.

"I'm in a fortunate position to be able to come in and compete and try to earn a spot," he said. "But my mindset honestly is just to help the team out in whatever way possible. If I'm granted an opportunity, I'm going to give it everything that I've got.

"I'm going to go for it. I'm going out on my shield, especially since it's my last camp here. So I've got to do what I've got to do."