Deontae Cooper thought he was at the end with football.
He was an all-state running back at Citrus Hill High School in California before enduring an injury-plagued, up-and-down career at the University of Washington before finishing up with his best season as a transfer to San Jose State.
Fortunately, former UW teammate Michael Kneip talked him into coaching with him at Bellevue High School, which led to Cooper taking over his own Seattle-are program – Highline High School.
The Pirates’ rebuilding effort has been nothing short of mind-blowing: Cooper has gone from hosting five teenagers in his first players’ meeting in 2019 to leading the school to its first state berth into the Class 2A tournament.
“This is a pretty good … diverse school,” Cooper said. “I was surprised they didn’t have a tradition of being good.”
Cooper made an effort not just to be seen in the hallways, but create excitement. He also hired a staff full of ex-UW teammates, notably Anthony Berg and Sione Potoa’e.
In Cooper’s first season, the Pirates played in the third division of the 2A SPSL. And last spring, they played a limited 2A KingCo schedule.
This fall, the team with 40 players has found a new gear, led by dynamic sophomore wide receiver Marquawn McCraney, whom Cooper thinks will develop into a big-time FBS recruit. It is a starting offense with just one senior – right tackle Noah Harder – full of explosive athletes everywhere.
They not only won the 2A KingCo title, they now face Squalicum in their first-ever state playoff game.
“We’ve reminded the kids, ‘Nobody has worn purple and been in this environment.'” Cooper said. “We are welcoming this together.”
Editor’s note: Here’s a game-by-game breakdown, including top individual performers, outlook and score prediction, of this weekend’s 2021 WIAA Class 2A football round-of-16 matchups.
Bracket breakdown: Surprises, snubs, top first round matchups
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NO. 11 OTHELLO HUSKIES (6-3) at NO. 6 STEILACOOM SENTINELS (7-0)
4 p.m. Saturday at Mount Tahoma Stadium, Tacoma
Statistical leaders: For Othello – QB Spencer Lawson, RB Sonny Asu and LB Terrill Freeman (97 tackles). For Steilacoom – QB Caleb Crider (46-98, 678 yards, 12 TDs), RB Deandre Napier (52 carries, 528 yards, four TDs), WR Cole Miller (21 catches, 286 yards, four TDs) and LB Austin Kinney (41 tackles).
What to watch for: Huskies like running old-school power right at you, and have two juniors who bring the pop in RB Sonny Asu and FB Julian Alegria, But this version of the Sentinels is built to hold up with physical defensive front, and unleashing shifty RBs Deandre Napier and Jaycion Cain on turf with decisive speed advantage could be the difference.
Pick: Steilacoom, 24-12.
NO. 14 SHADLE PARK HIGHLANDERS (6-2) at NO. 3 NORTH KITSAP VIKINGS (9-0)
1 p.m. Saturday at North Kitsap Stadium, Poulsbo
Statistical leaders: For Shadle Park – QB Tre Dickerson (69-115, 960 yards, 13 TDs), RB Beckett Ensminger (75 carries, 574 yards, three TDs), WR Liam Johnston (17 catches, 368 yards, seven TDs) and LB Kellen Palm. For North Kitsap – QB Colton Bower (139-203, 2,221 yards, 35 TDs), Bower (45 carries, 392 yards, nine TDs), WR Logan Sloman (29 catches, 623 yards, 10 TDs) and S Colton Bower (62 tackles, five INT).
What to watch for: Interesting across-the-state showdown between a program that has set state passing records out of the spread attack (Hilanders) – and a team that recently switched to the spread (Vikings), igniting QB Colton Bower’s school-record passing run. Two-time 2A GSL champions have size, and getting DB Liam Johnston (shoulder) back would be big boost in trying to slow down all-state performer.
Pick: North Kitsap, 30-19.
NO. 10 W.F. WEST BEARCATS (8-2) at NO. 7 PROSSER MUSTANGS (7-1)
2 p.m. Saturday at Prosser High School
Statistical leaders: For W.F. West – QB Gage Brumfield (8-11, 82 yards, TD), RB Brock Guyette (84 carries, 531 yards, 10 TDs), WR Cameron Amoroso (27 catches, 466 yards, six TDs) and S Cristo Parriott (62 tackles, two INT). For Prosser – QB Kaiden Rivera (217-344, 2,330 yards, 23 TDs), RB Anthony Martin (33 carries, 176 yards) and WR Isaac Kernan (48 catches, 565 yards, five TDs).
Pick: Prosser, 28-20.
NO. 15 FIFE TROJANS (4-5) at NO. 2 LYNDEN LIONS (8-1)
7 p.m. Saturday at Civic Stadium, Bellingham
Statistical leaders: For Fife – QB Dylan Goldstrom (30-76, 636 yards, six TDs), RB Jaden Orchard (108 carries, 563 yards, two TDs), RB Tino Asoau (12 catches, 336 yards, two TDs) and DT Clayton Barenett (31 tackles). For Lynden – QB Kaedan Hermanutz (64-115, 915 yards, 14 TDs), RB Lane Heerlinga (139 carries, 739 yards, seven TDs) and WR Kaleo Jandoc (15 catches, 405 yards, seven TDs).
What to watch for: Even though it’s a rematch of the 2018 state semifinals (31-0 Lions’ win), these two underclassmen-loaded programs are in different formative stages this fall. Fife will need to play a near-perfect game to pull off an upset – and has a defensive front that can get stops, and a Wing-T rusher in RB Roy Lockley that gets hard yards. But Lynden has a few more playmaking gears – and better speed to make it happen.
Pick: Lynden, 38-14.
NO. 12 ORTING CARDINALS (5-3) at NO. 5 RIDGEFIELD SPUDDERS (10-0)
5 p.m. Saturday at Ridgefield High School
Statistical leaders: For Orting – QB Mason McCall (59-96, 650 yards, five TDs), RB Aidan Herd (88 carries, 850 yards, seven TDs), WR Tanner Peavler (15 catches, 165 yards, two TDs) and LB Elijah Burbridge (120 tackles, four sacks). For Ridgefield – QB Logan Debeaumont (73-123, 1,108 yards, 15 TDs), RB Davis Pankow (89 carries, 584 yards, 12 TDs), WR Ty Snider (47 catches, 855 yards, 14 TDs) and LB Wyatt Bartroff (92 tackles).
What to watch for: The 2A GSHL champions are clear favorites, but are facing an opponent from the 2A SPSL that doesn’t commit many mistakes – and should make them earn it. Expect the running backs – Orting’s Aidan Herd and Ridgefield’s Davis Pankow – to be utilized heavily, especially between the hashes. The question is what will happen when the Spudders attack the perimeter? WR Ty Snider and company should feast.
Pick: Ridgefield, 32-13.
NO. 13 HIGHLINE PIRATES (8-2) at NO. 4 SQUALICUM STORM (5-2)
7 p.m. Friday at Civic Stadium, Bellingham
Statistical leaders: For Highline – QB Ronan Rasmussen (78-136, 1,030 yards, 11 TDs), RB Maki Piper, WR Marquawn McCraney and LBs Maki Piper and Charles Brown. For Squalicum – QB Leyton Smithson (36-62, 443 yards, three TDs), RB Djouvensky Schlenbaker (134 carries, 707 yards, seven TDs), WR Kai Posey (19 catches, 299 yards, four TDs) and LB Bryson Lamb (50 tackles).
What to watch for: Coach Nick Lucey feels this is one of the best defenses he’s ever had at Squalicum – and the Storm will need it trying to hold down QB Ronan Rasmussen and this aggressive, multi-faceted offense. But the Pirates (or the rest of the state) haven’t seen an offensive backfield quite like this one in speedy dual-threat QB Leyton Smithson and all-state RB Djouvensky Schlenbaker, who are big plays waiting to happen.
Pick: Squalicum, 34-18.
NO. 19 ENUMCLAW HORNETS (8-2) at NO. 8 HOCKINSON HAWKS (7-2)
7 p.m. Friday at Battle Ground Stadium
Statistical leaders: For Enumclaw – QB Malcom Harper (75-136, 1,346 yards, 17 TDs), RB Emmit Otero (135 carries, 635 yards, seven TDs), WR Dylan Watterson (14 catches, 431 yards, eight TDs) and LB Dane Johnson (114.5 tackles). For Hockinson – QB Jarod Oldham (104-180, 1,330 yards, 18 TDs), RB Cody Wheeler (82 carries, 380 yards, eight TDs) and WR Kenyon Johnson (37 catches, 406 yards, seven TDs).
What to watch for: This should be quite the tussle between league runners-up. Ball-control Enumclaw loves feeding RB Emmit Otero to set up the big-play capability of WR Dylan Watterson. Since the Hawks’ 35-0 loss to Ridgefield, the two-time 2A champion have reeled off seven wins in a row (outscoring opponents, 324-60) – and will want to turn this matchup into a scoring spree on the speedway.
Pick: Hockinson, 23-21.
NO. 16 EAST VALLEY OF SPOKANE KNIGHTS (4-3) at NO. 1 TUMWATER THUNDERBIRDS (7-2)
7 p.m. Friday at Tumwater Stadium
Statistical leaders: For East Valley – QB Diezel Wilkinson (1,250 yards rushing), LB Joe Hofstee (62 tackles). For Tumwater – QB Brady Prothero (25-47, 453 yards, six TDs), RB Peyton Hoyt (98 carries, 935 yards, 18 TDs), WR Seth Weller (16 catches, 350 yards, five TDs) and LB Caleb Sadlemyer (55 tackles, three sacks).
What to watch for: Also a cool moment for the Knights, who went winless in 2018, and notched one win a year later when the Thunderbirds won the 2A title. Credit goes to a persevering group of 10 seniors, and high-volume, do-everything sophomore QB Diezel Wilkinson, who had never played the position until this fall (he’s been a tailback and receiver). But Tumwater is as healthy at its been all season – and wants to stay that way.
Pick: Tumwater, 50-7.
(Featured photos by Marco Orozco)