At some point, perhaps, the Deontae Cooper story won’t start with his knees. It will, perhaps, open with him starting at running back for the Washington Huskies. That story doesn’t run today.
Today, Cooper is running well. No, it’s better than that: He continues to run well, and he continues to prove to himself and his new coaches that he can – no, he will – be a healthy, viable, productive option out of the backfield in 2014.
“I feel good,” he said after a recent practice. He paused. “I feel great. … It’s been a long time since I’ve felt like this.”
Cooper is the guy everyone roots for – the guy you should root for – and not just because of all the suffering and all the setbacks caused by three torn anterior cruciate ligaments (two in his right knee, one in his left). Cooper is one of the most respected, most mature, most humble players in the UW locker room, and he has a chance next fall to step into one of the team’s most important roles.
“It’s very realistic,” he said of his goal to be the Huskies’ starting back for the Aug. 30 season opener at Hawaii. “I feel like it’s going to be here before we know it, and when it gets here, I’m going to be ready for it. I know that much.”
Last year was Cooper’s fourth season on campus, his first in full uniform on Saturdays at Husky Stadium. After three long years and three comebacks, he finally played in his first collegiate game, with six carries against Boise State in the grand reopening of the venerable stadium.
He had sporadic carries throughout the season as a backup to Bishop Sankey, and earned the team’s Guy Flaherty Most Inspirational Award, which UW boasts as its oldest and most prestigious honor.
He was, he admitted, cautious in his latest comeback, and who could blame him? But he entered this spring determined to put the injuries behind him for good.
“I want to attack everything,” he said. “I want to be fearless.”
Cooper, listed as a 6-foot, 201-pound senior from Perris, Calif., already has been granted three additional years of eligibility by the NCAA, making 2014 essentially his redshirt sophomore season. He also plans to take graduate-level classes in the fall, after earning his undergraduate degree this spring in communications and ethnic studies.
On the field, Cooper is participating in just his second spring with the Huskies. He graduated high school early to participate in UW’s spring practices in 2010, and he was impressive. In one scrimmage, he had 114 yards on 12 carries, including touchdowns covering 52 and 29 yards.