Deontae Cooper’s career on the field at Washington was derailed by three separate ACL injuries. But he has his time on Montlake — spent mostly in the training and class rooms — to thank for getting him back on the football field.
The sidelines, that is.
Highline High School named Cooper its next head football coach on Thursday. He wouldn’t have gotten the opportunity had Michael Kneip, a close friend and teammate at UW, not made Cooper his first hire after taking over as Bellevue coach last year, two years removed from the dominant, scandal-plagued Butch Goncharoff era. Kneip hired Cooper as Bellevue’s running backs coach.
“Every time I walked in that locker room (at UW), Mike was there waiting for me,” Cooper said Friday.
This time it was Cooper waiting for his call.
After transferring to play his final collegiate season at San Jose State and subsequently working out with the Oakland Raiders but not catching on, Cooper moved back to Seattle and began working as a general contractor downtown.
When Kneip got the Bellevue job, there was only one person for him to call: his friend of almost a decade, whom he met all the way back on his official campus visit (and shared many moments alone in the training room).
“He’s one of those guys when you meet him, you know he’s a different guy in a good way,” Kneip said, though he never envisioned him — or Cooper — roaming the sidelines.
“He gave me a call,” Cooper recalled, “and said, ‘I got (the job). You ready to start the weight-room program tomorrow?’ I said, ‘Yup, let’s do it.’
“And I haven’t looked back since.”
When he transferred to San Jose State, Cooper said he was “trying to escape this feel-good story,” of him climbing back from injury time after time. (He had enough time to earn three degrees from UW, including a Master’s in intercollegiate leadership.)
But Cooper has since turned that story into a motivational one, for kids, and now, for his future players at Highline.
“I can help be the cheat sheet for the test life is gonna throw at them, what the athletic world is gonna throw at them,” Cooper said. “Just able to give them foresight on what’s to come. Being not so far removed from where they’re trying to get to, you can relate better.”
Kneip, who graduated from Bellevue in 2012 with four state championships, wanted to restore his alma mater’s gridiron dominance — but also bring a culture that might sound little familiar if you pay attention to college football in these parts.
“For me and him, I think it’s more about developing the kids as human beings, rather than football,” Kneip said. “I think it’s a byproduct of that. If you get kids to be really good people, you win more games.”
So Kneip made Cooper his first call.
Cooper made his to Washington coach Chris Petersen.
The new Highline coach grew up in California, but after seven seasons at UW, “that’s home,” he said. He was a regular practice attendee last fall, and he plans to continue to pick Petersen’s mind.
Some initial advice? Recruit the campus. Keep it simple. Take your time.
“Kind of the stuff I expected from Coach Pete,” Cooper said. “It’s good to know he’s in my corner.”