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Deontae Cooper is 'ready to grind'

Deontae Cooper was a highly-touted running back recruit, but two ACL injuries have kept him sidelined. He's back for the 2012 season and hopes to make the most of his opportunity. Tom Hauck

SEATTLE -- When Deontae Cooper took the field for Washington’s first practice Monday afternoon, he looked around at his teammates. The 6-foot, 201-pound running back took a long look at framework of Husky Stadium being built in the background. He couldn’t help but look at all of the purple and white jersey, the gold helmets.

After back-to-back knee injuries ended his first two college football seasons before he could play a game, Cooper was back on the field as the Huskies opened fall camp. He took the time to enjoy the moment.

“I’m just ready to strap ’em on and go, ready to grind till the doctor tells me I can’t play,” Cooper said. “If I tear my ACL five more times, I’m going to keep going.”

As a highly touted freshman out of Perris (Calif.) Citrus Hill in 2010, Cooper’s first injury happened during a practice early in camp. As he worked to prepare himself for the 2011 season, he pushed himself too hard and suffered a second injury before the season started.

“We’re kind of in uncharted waters with Deontae at this point,” Washington coach Steve Sarkisian said. “He’s going to get in. We’re going to monitor him closely, but I think it’s important, not only physically, but from a mental standpoint, from a psyche standpoint, he gets into the flow of it.”

Cooper said he feels fine physically, but he now needs to regain his feel for the game after missing two full seasons. While he works his way back, teammates Jesse Callier and Bishop Sankey will compete to fill the void left by Chris Polk, who rushed for 4,049 yards at Washington, finishing No. 2 on the school’s career rushing list behind Napoleon Kaufman.

“I’m just going out there each day, trying to get better at what I do, perfecting my craft,” said Sankey, who rushed for 187 yards and a touchdown as a freshman. “I’m just trying to be the best all-around player I can be to help the team out and get done what we need to get done this season.”

Sankey said Polk took the time to teach him about patience and technique in 2011, which helped prepare him for the larger role he stepped into during spring practices.

While it remains unclear who will get the bulk of the carries as Polk’s replacement, Cooper is confident the competition will make Washington's running backs better.

“You want to compete against the best,” he said. “Chris set a standard here. We’re going to try to build off that. It’s going to be a great competition. I’m looking forward to it.”

On day one, Cooper was just happy to be healthy. Now he plans to figure out where he fits among the running backs on Washington’s roster.

“He’s running around,” Huskies quarterback Keith Price said. “He’s looking good. I can’t wait. I can’t wait until we get in pads and he can really show what he’s got.”