SEATTLE — Though Saturday’s game was full of happy moments for all the University of Washington players, one moment in particular was maybe more special than all the rest.
Running back Deontae Cooper, who missed the last three seasons following three serious knee injuries, scored the first touchdown of his UW career on the first play of the fourth quarter in Saturday’s 56-0 rout of Idaho State at Husky Stadium.
It was a joyous accomplishment for a player who has spent the last three years enduring seemingly endless hours of therapy and rehabilitation.
“I knew it was going to be a special moment for me, my teammates and coaches,” Cooper said. “They’ve seen me putting all the hard work in, all the time, so it was definitely special.”
The last play of the third quarter was a 61-yard run by UW backup quarterback Cyler Miles, giving the Huskies a first-and-goal on the Idaho State 4. Dwayne Washington had been the running back in the third quarter, but in the break between periods UW head coach Steve Sarkisian kept Washington on the sideline and sent Cooper into the game.
“I wanted to get him in the end zone,” Sarkisian said. “I felt like he deserved it and I knew the team would be excited for him.”
“When they called my number to go in, I was stoked,” Cooper said. “I was saying, ‘There’s no way I’m going down (short of the end zone).’”
Cooper scored on his first carry and was mobbed by teammates back on the sideline, among them starting quarterback Keith Price, who admitted he “kind of wanted to shed a tear. I understood all the hard work he’s put in … trying to get his body in shape, so it was a real emotional moment.”
“I was so happy for him,” said tight end Austin Sefarian-Jenkins. “It’s been a long process for him to get back, and for him to get that touchdown was real emotional. Everyone was just pumped up for him. He’s the hardest worker, and he’s done everything he can do to be in the position he’s in.”
“For a guy that’s been through what he’s been through for three long years, and now getting to see him out there running and doing what he’s capable (of doing), it was very emotional,” added safety Sean Parker. “I was very happy for him.”
Cooper, a redshirt junior, first hurt his knee in the fall of 2010. He missed that season, was hurt again in the summer of 2011, missed that season, and then was hurt again last fall. The first two injuries were to his left knee, the third to his right knee, and all required surgery.
His teammates “have seen the work I’ve put in these last few years,” Cooper said. “Every morning, the blood, sweat and tears I’ve put into this. It’s been a long rehab process, but to be finally here is a blessing.”