It was practice as usual for the Washington Huskies on Thursday. Day four of fall camp was no different than the first three in terms of energy and intensity.
Normal was a good thing for the Huskies because less than 24 hours before that, they were informed that one of their most liked and respected teammates suffered a season-ending injury for the third year in a row.
Coach Steve Sarkisian told players during Wednesday night’s team meeting that running back Deontae Cooper suffered a season-ending tear of the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) in his right knee.
Cooper had fought his way back to being cleared to play after suffering ACL tears in his left knee the previous two seasons.
“Two nights ago, our meeting was jubilant, guys were having a lot of fun,” Sarkisian said. “Then the very next night I come in with that news. Obviously, it was a somber room. But I addressed it, that we all needed to be there for him.”
Despite never carrying the ball in a game, Cooper earned respect from his teammates for the way he recovered from the first two knee surgeries, hoping he would be the same physical runner who wowed coaches when he first stepped on campus as an early enrollee in the spring of 2010.
After his first full practice Monday, Cooper understood what it meant to be practicing.
“Just to get out there with the guys,” he said. “It’s been a long time and I’ve been excited to get out there and play again.”
That’s why he wouldn’t talk about playing in the season opener.
“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 my hopes up.”
Then it all came apart like the ligaments in his knee.
Perhaps the biggest reason why there wasn’t a somber mood at Thursday’s practice was Cooper was there, smiling and talking to players.
He didn’t have crutches or a knee brace, but he had a positive outlook.
“To Deontae’s credit, he’s just an absolute stud about it,” Sarkisian said. “ He’s back out here again today with a smile on his face, saying, ‘Coach, I’ll be back.’ ”
He cheered on his fellow running backs in every drill.
“We all realize that injuries are part of the game,” running backs coach Joel Thomas said. “It’s a brotherhood in our group and we talked about taking care of him and making sure we are there for him.”
Cooper’s injury occurred early during Tuesday’s practice on a simple handoff exchange drill. He was not hit.
“He made a cut and he didn’t fall down,” Sarkisian said. “Nothing happened, he initially said, ‘I think I tweaked my calf.’ ”
So what’s next for Cooper? He will undergo his third ACL surgery.
The question of whether Cooper can come back is unfair to even ponder, but Sarkisian thinks it is possible.
“Out of all the guys on the team – and we have great, tough, kids – I don’t know if there is anybody who will handle it better than Deontae,” Sarkisian said.
Thomas is a believer in Cooper.
“His parents raised an outstanding young man,” Thomas said. “He sees the light on the darkest of days. I don’t see him ever detouring off that.”
Perhaps Cooper said it best in his Monday interview.
“Until the doctors tell me I can’t play, if I tear my ACL five more times, I will keep going,” he said.
Defensive end Hau’oli Jamora, who was also coming off ACL surgery from last season, suffered a sprain on the same knee during Wednesday’s practice in a no-contact drill. He did not practice Thursday and Sarkisian said Jamora will have arthroscopic surgery as a precaution.
“We thought there might be some meniscus (damage), maybe some scar tissue,” Sarkisian said. “We’re going to go in and scope him to be sure. At this stage, as we’re bringing him back, there’s no point to not do that.”
Jamora will likely miss around two weeks.
“I’d rather him miss two weeks now than down the road and affect him for the season,” Sarkisian said. “He’s come so far at this point. We’re going to take every precaution with those types of guys and scenarios.”
Jamora wasn’t the only one to miss practice. Wide receiver James Johnson also sat out because of a sore foot. Sarkisian said Johnson wasn’t sure how he injured the foot.
“We’re getting some fluke kind of stuff,” Sarkisian said. “James sprained his foot here, I don’t know, at the end of practice, or this morning. Sometimes injuries can occur that way, other times, they come from the obvious stuff, you see a big hit or something but that’s not how our injuries have happened.”
Defensive back Nate Fellner was a victim of one of those fluke plays.
He suffered an injured foot during a one-on-one pass coverage drill. He didn’t take a hit or fall down, but grabbed at his foot.
Fellner was carted off the field and was later seen wearing a walking boot.
Linebacker Taz Stevenson also left practice early with firstname.lastname@example.org 253-597-8483 blog.thenewstribune.com/uwsports @RyanDivish