From being under-recruited out of high school to going undrafted in the 2022 NFL Draft, it would have been easy for Jack Cochran to give up on his football dreams.
But quitting was never in the 23-year-old linebacker’s DNA. His persistence paid off as he now plays for the NFL’s Kansas City Chiefs.
Growing up in Mount Vernon, Cochrane’s love for sports came naturally as he participated in many different activities throughout most of his life.
He thrived on competition and filled himself in playing for and/or against future college and NFL stars such as offensive lineman Tristan Wirfs, offensive lineman Tyler Linderbaum, quarterback Cam Miller and linebacker Adam Bock.
Surrounded by so much talent within a 10-mile radius, Cochrane said it all comes from how people are raised in the area.
“There’s just a unique environment of people around Solon and Mount Vernon,” Cochrane said. “There are a lot of really good families and kids brought up with the expectation to do the right thing and try their best. As a result, an unusual amount of success is coming in this area.”
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Unfortunately, when you’re from a small town, it can be hard to catch the eye of big colleges.
That was the case for Cochrane, who found that as his high school career with the Mustangs drew to a close, college offers were few and far between.
“I was pretty unrecruited coming out of high school,” Cochrane said. “I played safety, running back and wide receiver, which weren’t positions a lot of colleges thought I’d play. So I’d have to go to a few schools. That’s when I got an offer from South Dakota, and I ended up taking it.”
Playing at the college level presented its own challenge. The Coyotes coaching staff wanted him to move to linebacker.
“It was nice in some ways because I didn’t have any bad habits from high school,” Cochrane said. “So when I got to college, my coaches started from scratch and showed me some good habits to play linebacker. Of course it was different because I had to learn to read the line of scrimmage and react faster because there was less space, but I’d say I adapted pretty well.”
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That experience playing both positions paid off for Cochran as he went on to have a remarkable career at South Dakota. In addition to being named a three-time team captain, he racked up 327 tackles (sixth most in program history), 23 tackles for loss, five sacks, four interceptions and 10 pass deflections.
As a senior, he was named MVFC (Missouri Valley Football Conference) Scholar-Athlete of the Year, was selected to the MVFC All-Academic First Team and was selected to the All-MVFC First Team.
Cochrane didn’t hear his name called during the 2022 NFL Draft. Familiar with the feeling of being overlooked, Cochrane said he had to adapt rather than let it throw him off.
“After being under-recruited out of high school, it wasn’t exactly a new feeling,” Cochrane said. “I knew there was an outside chance I could get drafted that third day, but I still felt good about the opportunity to go undrafted because I found a place to try to make things happen. So I learned how to throw punches and make the best of the situation that came my way.”
After hearing offers from several NFL teams hoping to sign him after the draft, Cochrane decided the Kansas City Chiefs were the best fit for him.
“I’m going through the pre-draft process and I’ve got to talk to different coaches and other staff around the organization,” Cochrane said. “The values that people here really spoke to me. Of course, the level of success they have achieved over the last ten years speaks for itself. So this was something I wanted to be a part of and I’ve loved it since I’ve been here.”
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Cochrane did not make the team’s original 53-man roster, but was signed to the Kansas City practice squad. He was activated on September 13, a moment that brought him short-lived excitement.
“It was great, but I knew I had to get back to work,” Cochrane said. that I was going to play an NFL game, but I knew I had to prepare and be ready to go. The old saying goes that the NFL means ‘not for long,’ so if you don’t go out there and prove it, you belong every week, you’re missing out.”
Cochrane recorded his first career tackle during the Chiefs’ Week 4 game Sunday night against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The most memorable moment of the night may have come after the game, when Cochrane caught up with lifelong friend Tristan Wirfs, a Tampa Bay offensive lineman.
Cochrane said it was like a culmination of hard work by both players.
“It was a pretty surreal moment,” Cochrane said. “I’ve played every sport with Tristan since we were four or five years old. So I can’t really explain how that moment felt, but it was an incredible feeling to know what we both went through. Yes, we had different paths, but ending up in the same place for the first time since high school was pretty special. It’s a moment I’ll hold in my heart for a long time.”
Cochrane appeared in four games with the Chiefs and recorded three tackles. Well aware that his NFL days could end at any time, Cochrane said he’s doing his best to make the most of each day.
“I’m the type to set pretty short-term goals,” Cochrane said. “I’m more focused on coming in every day and getting the most out of them. I believe that if you can get the most out of the process, the results will take care of themselves. Obviously, I want to be in this league for a long time and be a big contributor not only on special teams, but also on this defense. But I think if you get too wrapped up in it, it will drive you crazy. So I just try to work hard and make the most of every day.”