SEATTLE -- Deontae Cooper stood on the sideline on a sunny summer Monday and talked about what it meant to put on a uniform again.
He has just finished Washington’s first day of practice. All he wanted was a chance to play football.
After two torn ACLs in his left knee cost him his first two college football seasons, Cooper was determined to make it through the 2012 season healthy. But, on that day, wearing that purple jersey, he said another injury wouldn’t stop him from moving forward.
“If I tear my ACL five more times, I’m going to keep going,” Cooper said.
Two days later, the 6-foot, 201-pound running back from Perris (Calif.) Citrus Hill High School learned he was going to have to endure another surgery, another round of rehab after suffering a third ACL tear, this one in his right knee.
Washington coach Steve Sarkisian issued a statement saying he was “saddened” and “dismayed” after learning the player who worked so hard just to practice with his teammates was now forced back to the sideline after being injured in a non-contact drill.
As the Huskies look to replace running back Chris Polk, Steve Sarkisian wanted to work Cooper back into the mix at a cautious pace. Cooper was limited during the first three days of practice, watching teammates Bishop Sankey and Jesse Callier get a bulk of the carries.
When Cooper met with the media earlier in the week, he was more worried about finding his feel for the game than suffering a third devastating injury.
As news spread Wednesday night, fans, teammates and former Washington athletes voiced their support through Twitter.
“Prayers go out to Deontae Cooper another tough break no one works harder,” linebacker Nate Fellner tweeted.
Former Washington basketball standout Isaiah Thomas added, “Feel bad for Deontae Cooper.. Praying 4 u Brodie!”
Without Cooper, the Huskies are even thinner at a position that lacks depth. They will rely on Callier, who rushed for 693 yards on 124 carries over two seasons, and Sankey, who rushed for 187 yards on 28 carries as a true freshman last year.
While Washington’s coaching staff will have to adjust to Cooper’s absence, it is the running back who faces the rougher road. Another surgery. Another round of rehab.
“Deontae has done everything we have asked of him, and has been an example to his teammates with his hard work in the classroom, and the dedication he showed in returning from two previous ACL surgeries in his left knee,” Sarkisian said in his statement. “Our football program will do everything we can to support him in this tough time.”