By Kavin Mistry
Imagine sitting on the bench, watching your teammates play the game that you love and all you can do is sit, grab your knee and watch.
Deontae Cooper knows what it means to fight for what you love.
The Spartans starting running back is 25 years old and is in his seventh season of college football.
He has torn his left ACL two times and the right one once, but the once-touted high school prospect from 2010 is still making plays in the backfield.
“I had some unfortunate luck when it came to camp,” Cooper said. “Torn ACL my first year so I was sidelined and then I rehabbed back too early and I re-tore it again.”
Cooper did not strain his focus on only football. The Spartans senior running back has had a strong showing the classroom, pursuing two bachelor’s degrees and a masters degree.
“Before the injuries I didn’t think that far ahead,” Cooper said. “After the injuries I started thinking about my academics and how I can make the most of my situation.”
“I was highly recruited out of high school,” Cooper said. “I believed in a system up in Washington with coach Sarkisian and early had some success in spring ball.”
He was a four-star recruit out of Citrus Hill High School to the University of Washington. He began his Huskies career with an impressive spring showing in camp and had high hopes for the season.
But as the season grew closer, the injuries began to hit. In August of 2010, Cooper tore his ACL during practice and was promptly out for the season.
“I have been playing this game since I was eight years old and never missed a practice or a game,” Cooper said. “Getting hurt when I got to college was a shock to me.”
He rehabbed for a year before testing the knee out prior to the 2011 season, when he then blew out the same knee.
“The way I was raised watching my dad work so hard, having a twin brother and an older brother helped me get through it all,” Cooper said. “A lot of who I am today, my family shaped me and all of them played different parts.”
Cooper said he regrets having tried to push his knee too soon and wishes he waited longer for it to heal before getting back on the field.
A year later, after having fully rehabbed his knee the right way, Cooper’s bad luck continued as he tore his right ACL as well.
Despite all this heartache and turmoil of three ACL injuries, Cooper continued to play football and was awarded captain status prior to last season at Washington.
“I always knew that I worked hard,” Cooper said. “I found out more about my character and it forced me to be more consistent, be disciplined and build some mental toughness that I didn’t know was there.”
However, while he was finally ready to take the field, the Huskies had other plans, freshman running back Myles Gaskin took the spotlight and Cooper was left as the backup.
He decided that he needed a change of scenery and wanted to make sure that his legacy was a success story, not one that ended with being left out.
“I just was really looking for a new start,” Cooper said. “One that would end on a high note and see what I could do with an opportunity like this.”
Cooper also said after watching how much success former Spartan Tyler Ervin had in the backfield for SJSU last season, it made him think believe that this would be a great place to end his college story.
All of Cooper’s teammates support everything he is trying to do on the field after recovering from the debilitating injuries he endured. Quarterback Kenny Potter said it is nice to have someone like him in the backfield to help take pressure off of himself on offense.
“I think that it is inspirational,” said Spartans head coach Ron Caragher. “He sets his goals high as a young student athlete and he doesn’t let an injury or something of that nature set him back.”
While the NCAA has strict rules on how many years an athlete can play at the Division 1 level (four years), they granted Cooper an additional year because of the injuries he went through.
“I love that Deontae was determined to get back on the field,” Caragher said. “He did a great job at the University of Washington, picked as a captain last year and brought his talents to San Jose State.”