SEATTLE — Longtime University of Washington football program followers were already swimming in a sea of welcome-back excitement with the opening of new Husky Stadium on Saturday night.
Then they got to heartily cheer a true welcome-to-UW football moment – the long-delayed, much-anticipated game debut of Huskies running back Deontae Cooper against Boise State.
On UW’s fourth offense series – on the opposite side of the field where he first suffered the first of three serious knee injuries in 2010 – UW coach Steve Sarkisian pointed to Cooper standing on the sideline to enter the game.
“The longer you stand on the sidelines,” Sarkisian said, “the harder it is.”
Cooper jogged into the huddle early in the second quarter.
“Coach Sark and coach (Johnny) Nansen said, ‘Coop, let’s go! Coop, let’s go!’” Cooper said. “So then I jumped in there.”
Keith Price took the snap and handed it right off to Cooper, who barreled up the gut for a 1-yard run.
“He needs to start to play the game,” Sarkisian said. “He needs to get hit, needs to get tackled.”
By the sellout crowd’s reaction, you’d think it was a 99-yard touchdown scamper. Cooper – who ended up finishing with 8 yards on six carries – was given a rousing ovation, all for good reason.
The Huskies won, 38-6.
“It was a blessing, especially after how I started three years ago,” Cooper said. “I am ready to move on, get better and continue to play football.”
At one point when the Perris, Calif., product enrolled at the UW in the spring of 2010, it was thought he could challenge injured incumbent Chris Polk for the starting tailback job.
But on a cool August night when Cooper got loose on a 32-yard run during practice, he crumbled to the ground untouched. He tore the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) in his left knee, costing him his season.
Misfortune followed. Nearly recovered the next summer, Cooper tore the same ACL during team conditioning right before fall camp. At the time he was projected to be the back-up running back behind Polk.
And during the first practice of fall camp in 2012, he tore the ACL in his right knee taking a handoff during a non-contact drill.
“Until the doctors tell me I can’t play, if I tear my ACL five more times, I will keep going,” Cooper said a few days after his third knee injury.
And on Saturday, perseverance won out.
PRICE BREAKS RECORD
Price’s first pass of 2013 went into the arms of Boise State cornerback Donte Deayon for an interception.
After that, the fifth-year senior was near perfect.
And he tossed a pair of third-quarter touchdown passes – the last an 18-yarder to tight end Joshua Perkins - to become the UW’s all-time leader.
Price now has 55 career passing touchdowns, eclipsing the school mark of 54, set by Cody Pickett in 2003.
Price also had his third career 300-yard passing game Saturday (23-of-31, 324 yards).
Cooper was the third tailback to find playing time behind starter Bishop Sankey and backup Dwayne Washington, a converted wide receiver. Running back Jesse Callier, who was lost last season with a knee injury, saw his first action Saturday with 12 minutes remaining. … With his 9-yard run late in the third quarter, Sankey registered his eighth career 100-yard rushing game. … Four UW true freshmen saw playing time in the opener – receivers Damore’ea Stringfellow and John Ross, defensive end Joe Mathis and placekicker Cameron Van Winkle. … The first player to catch a football in the new Husky Stadium was UW receiver Kevin Smith on a touchback to start the game. … Recent ring-of-honor inductee Mark Brunell, the former UW quarterback from 1989-92, was honored on the field at the end of the third quarter Saturday. The 17-year NFL veteran is now a high school coach at Episcopal School in Florida.