The season hasn't quite played out as UW veteran Deontae Cooper had hoped, but he's happy to help freshman Myles Gaskin keep climbing.
The roots of Myles Gaskin’s breakthrough season started to take shape on the grassy hills at Gasworks Park over the summer. There, the Huskies’ true freshman running back would run sprints alongside veteran running back Deontae Cooper, who prides himself as one of Washington’s hardest-working players.
Cooper was pushing Gaskin, still months and weeks away from putting on a UW uniform for the first time, to be the same. Every day throughout the summer, Monday through Friday, they would go to the hills and run sprints.
“A lot,” Cooper said.
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“They weren’t easy,” Gaskin said.
Both credit that foundation for helping to spring Gaskin’s sudden success this fall.
A 5-foot-9, 192-pound Lynnwood native, Gaskin emerged midseason as UW’s new featured back, and he entered the week with 856 yards and eight touchdowns in 10 games. Against an Oregon State (2-8, 0-7 Pac-12) defense that ranks last in the conference against the run, Gaskin on Saturday could become the UW’s first true freshman to reach the 1,000-yard plateau.
“Seeing him having the success he’s having, it’s not really surprising me,” Cooper said Wednesday. “If anything, I’m happy for him, just doing those things it’s like, ‘OK, the proof is in the pudding.’ He works with me and I like to believe I’m a hard-worker, so if you’re handling the workout that we’re doing together than, hey, you can do this thing.”
All those summer sprints created a bond between UW’s youngest running back and it’s most veteran player.
“Even in the Arizona game (on Halloween), we were talking about it: ‘All those hills that we did? Let’s go put them to work,’” Gaskin said.
The connection between Gaskin and Cooper had formed a couple years ago, when Gaskin was still a junior at O’Dea High School. Cooper had met Gaskin’s older brother, Ivan, and then Cooper wound up hosting Gaskin during his recruiting visit to UW.
That bond has strengthened this season, with Gaskin’s locker immediately to the right of Cooper’s.
“He’s one of the most chill-out dudes. You know Coop is: chillin’, happy, smilin’. Just a happy dude,” Gaskin said.
Coaches and teammates have lauded Gaskin’s skills as a back with great vision and even better patience. His ability to wait for blocks to develop and then shoot through even the smallest cracks is rare, especially for a freshman.
But no one has shown more patience than Cooper, now in his sixth season at UW. His story of coming back from three torn anterior cruciate ligaments in successive years — 2010, 2011 and 2012 — has been told and retold. It remains a remarkable tale of resilience that has made Cooper one of the most popular and most respected players in the locker room.
“You can’t put into words all that he’s been through,” Gaskin said. “It’s just amazing that you can come back from … all that stuff and be able to do what he does every day and never complain and always have that smile on his face, ready to go play some more football.”
Finally healthy, Cooper had the best game of his UW career at Oregon State two years ago, rushing for 166 yards and two touchdowns on 11 second-half carries in the Huskies’ 69-27 rout of the Beavers. It was a breakthrough game for Cooper to regain the confidence he had lost after three long years or recovery and rehabilitation.
That confidence, he said, hasn’t waned even as he’s fallen down the depth chart again this season. He doesn’t say it, but you know it’s been a frustrating year for him, having only seven carries (for 40 yards) in 10 games.
“Not playing like that, you can kind of lose your confidence, and you’ve got to dig deep and remain confident,” he said. “I’ve had experience (with that), sitting out those three years, and when you’re not playing — how do you keep your confidence if you’re not making plays like you normally do? That was the challenge for me, to continue to do my workouts, continue to do those things. It’s all a mental game. When I get in there, I’m a confident person and I want to maximize my opportunities. That’s how I go about it.”
With backup running back Dwayne Washington sideline by a leg injury, Cooper did have three carries for 15 yards behind Gaskin (18 carries, 108 yards) in the loss to Arizona State last week. At the end of one of his runs, Cooper bulldozed an ASU defensive back, firing up the UW sideline.
“To see him run over that dude,” Gaskin said, “everyone went crazy.”
Cooper promises his run at UW isn’t over. The NCAA has already granted him one more season of eligibility, and his plan as of now is to “definitely” use it in 2016.
He says he still has something to prove — and someone to race up those hills next summer.