In the best sports news of the summer, college football is back! The UW Huskies started their fall camp today and will play their first game in less than a month. It’s hard to know what to expect from a Husky team with a bunch of new coaches and a still young roster. They should be better, but maybe not enough to result in significantly more wins. We’ll have a lot more coverage as the Mariners and summer winds down.
For tonight, let’s talk for a second about Deontae Cooper. If you aren’t aware of the legend of Deontae, here’s the short version. A running back in the 2010 recruiting class, Cooper took about two practices to whip Husky Nation into a frenzy. Chris Polk had yet to become the unstoppable force he would be that year. Running back was a bit of a question mark, as was the rest of the team, and Cooper looked like he might get a lot of snaps, if not challenge to be the starter. He was extremely touted coming out of high school, with decent size, lightning speed and quickness, and excellent running instincts. Hugh Millen is on record as saying he was the most talented running back to enter the UW since Corey Dillon. Corey Dillon had 252 yards in one quarter, if you’ve forgotten.
Unfortunately, before the season ever started, Cooper blew out a knee. It was disappointing, of course, but it happens. He’d be back the next year, hopefully at full speed. And then, before last season, he blew another knee. When a running back has two knee surgeries, it’s hard to expect a lot from him in the future. Even if he heals right, the explosiveness and speed might be gone. It was entirely possible Deontae Cooper would never play a down in Husky Stadium.
Since the second surgery, most fans and media have stopped hoping for anything from Deontae. It’s just too unlikely. But still, there are whispers: “If Deontae could ever get healthy…” and “Look out for Deontae. If he can ever get on the field, he might run right past Callier and Sankey.” The whispers grew louder as the season approached and he progressed in his recovery. Several days ago, Steve Sarkisian said Deontae has been cleared for full participation. Today, he took part in his first practice in what feels like years. He’ll be limited for a while as they get him up to speed and used to playing football again, but the doctors have said he’s all clear, which is a bit of a miracle in itself.
It’s easy and appropriate to say that it’s great just to see him playing again, that any snaps he gets will be great, whether he has his old flash or not. By all accounts, he is a great kid who has worked hard to come back when others might have given up. Any reward would be deserved. He’s a long way from actual game action, of course. It’s possible that his knees don’t hold up and he is injured again or just becomes a bench player. Everyone is hoping for the best, but anyone saying he’s a guarantee to be star or even a contributor is ignorant or naive.
This is the first day of camp, though, so let your imagination go for a minute. Imagine that Deontae Cooper is back to the legendary skills he had coming out of high school. Picture him slowly building up strength, and then, maybe in Eugene or Los Angeles, erupting for 200 yards and leading the Huskies to a huge upset. It’s been a long time since the Huskies had lightning at tailback. For everything Chris Polk did, that was not his game. There’s something different about a running back flying around the tackle, bouncing outside, freezing a linebacker with a cut and outrunning the safety to the end zone. Deontae Cooper can be that guy.
It’s likely that he won’t be that guy. I hate to say it, but he faces an uphill battle until he actually plays half a season and sees how his knees hold up. Sometimes these miracle comebacks actually happen, though. Watch this one, because it has all the makings of a legendary story.
Here’s to hoping.