Deontae Cooper rejoins Huskies' uncertain running back picture
The redshirt sophomore missed two years with knee injuries, but now hopes to help UW fill the hole left by Chris Polk's departure.
Seattle Times staff reporter
Life after PolkHere's a look at UW's tailback position entering the 2012 season
Key loss Chris Polk, who started all 38 games the last three seasons, left after last season with a year of eligibility remaining and is now with the Philadelphia Eagles. His 4,049 rushing yards are the second-most in UW history behind Napoleon Kaufman's 4,106.
Returnees Junior Jesse Callier is UW's leading returning rusher with 693 yards the past two seasons on 124 carries, including 260 yards last year. Also back is sophomore Bishop Sankey, who rushed for 187 yards on 28 attempts last season.
Newcomers Deontae Cooper, a redshirt sophomore who has missed the last two seasons with knee injuries, has been cleared to resume practice, though he remains limited. Erich Wilson II, who signed in February, took part in his first practice Monday and redshirt freshman Dezden Petty, also listed as a fullback, are also in the mix.
Running back Deontae Cooper wasn't on the field long Monday as the Washington Huskies began practice for the 2012 season. Mostly just a few basic drills and conditioning.
Afterward, though, Cooper could barely stop smiling.
"Just to get out there with the guys and Husky football," he said. "It's been a long time and I've been excited to get out there and play again."
Indeed, none of the 105 Huskies who took the field Monday afternoon had been waiting as long as Cooper, a graduate of Citrus Hill High in Perris, Calif., who missed the last two seasons with knee injuries.
He was emerging as a young star in August 2010 before suffering multiple injuries, including an anterior cruciate ligament tear, during a scrimmage. He tore the ACL again during a conditioning drill in the summer of 2011.
Cooper suddenly wondered if he'd ever play again.
"There is that question for the first couple of weeks," he said. "And then after you get through with the surgery and the doctor tells you you can go again, it's 'Man, (I'm) ready to strap them on and go and grind.' Until the doctors tell me I can't play, if I tear my ACL five more times, I will keep going."
Cooper, a redshirt sophomore listed at 6-foot, 201 pounds, says he doesn't want to make predictions about when he may be able to return to the field.
"I'm just going to take it day by day," he said. "You never know. I don't want to say anything. You never know what can happen. I want to stay positive but I don't want to get hopes up."
That might have been part of the problem after the first injury. The second injury occurred in a conditioning drill, and Cooper said he was pushing himself too hard.
"I should have kind of paced myself," he said. "But being a natural competitor, man, that's what you do."
UW coach Steve Sarkisian said that, for now, the plan is for Cooper to get enough work to get some confidence back, but not rush it.
If he can get back to the form he showed in the fall of 2010, though, Cooper could be an intriguing wild card at a position of some uncertainty for the Huskies.
For the first time in the Sarkisian era, the Huskies don't have Chris Polk to hand the ball to after he left for the NFL a year early, having finished his career as the second-leading rusher in school history with 4,049 yards.
Jesse Callier, a junior, and Bishop Sankey, a redshirt sophomore, split time at the spot in the spring and begin the fall doing the same.
Sarkisian has said he could employ a committee approach more than the last few years, when Polk dominated the carries.
"There will be certain days when certain guys get the bulk of carries, and it might be Jesse one day and Bishop the other to see how they can handle 20 carries a practice or 25 carries a practice, how they respond physically," he said.
Cooper hopes for now he can work his way into the conversation.
"Chris set a standard here and we are going to try to build off of that," Cooper said. "We've got a lot of backs and it's going to be a great competition, and I'm looking forward to it."
• The Huskies got a scare when starting offensive lineman Erik Kohler went down with a knee injury during a one-on-one drill with Danny Shelton. Sarkisian, though, said Kohler's kneecap just popped out and was popped back into place, and that Kohler would be out just a few days.
• Safety Sean Parker left practice early, suffering from dehydration during a hot practice.
• When the team unveiled a new roster for the beginning of camp, two scholarship players were absent — redshirt freshman linebacker Matt Lyons and true freshman receiver Dwayne Washington. Sarkisian said Lyons has decided to transfer, while Washington is still waiting for clearance from the NCAA.
Bob Condotta: 206-515-5699 or email@example.com.