Head football coaches Deontae Cooper at Highline High School, and Sheldon Cross at Kennedy Catholic High School work less than a mile apart. The route each took to get to their respective school is hundreds of miles apart. Back then, much was different, but today a lot is similar — they are passionate about their roles in Burien and doing great things with their teams. The 2022 football season for the two Burien schools is lining up to be a special one to watch.
Deontae Cooper came to the Northwest as a highly recruited running back from California who signed in 2010 at the University of Washington. Hit with serious injuries in his first few years at UW, Deontae had to rely on grit and determination to get his playing time. Injuries to both knees limited what everyone hoped would be a massive career as a running back at the University of Washington. While generally healthy and able to play between 2013 – 2015, Deontae found that other players had jumped ahead of him on the depth chart.
He showed versatility in six years at the UW (one redshirt season, two injury seasons, and three years of playing). He played in most games (made two starts), had 653 yards on 122 carries as a running back, caught passes out of the backfield, and handled some kickoff returns. In 2016 Cooper transferred to San Jose State, hoping for more carries during his one last year of eligibility. As a Spartan, he started five games, played in all 11, and was second on the team in rushing.
Deontae’s upbeat personality never let him get down. He would tell himself daily to stay positive, reset and re-center, “Inhale positivity…exhale doubt,” was his mantra. Coaches and fellow players took note of his attitude and leadership. In 2013 he received the Huskies Guy Flaherty “Most Inspirational Award” (the team’s oldest and most prestigious honor). In 2014 he won the UW Earle T. Glant “Tough Husky” award. In 2015 he was voted a team captain for the season. Though Deontae had limited playing time, he received these awards and recognitions as a direct result of his work ethic and habits of paying attention, listening, and being committed to learning on the field and in the classroom. He also earned two bachelor’s degrees from UW, Communications and Ethnic studies, plus a master’s degree in Intercollegiate Athletics Leadership.
Deontae began coaching as an assistant at Bellevue High School. Again, he listened and learned, and by 2019 it was his time — he was ready and accepted the head coaching job at Highline High School — well-knowing the challenge that lay ahead. Winning football games was something Highline was not familiar with. Coach Cooper had ideas on changing all that.
The Pirates had some success in 2019, with a 4-5 win-loss record; they were off to a good start to changing their past trajectory. Then in 2020, COVID delayed the season until spring, resulting in a shortened 4-game season. Not all bad; this was like spring camp for rolling out the 2021 fall season. In September 2021, Highline welcomed everyone back to the beautiful, newly renovated school building. With a new weight room and attitude, a new football team soon got on a roll. Add a 2A Kingco League conference title and an overall 8-3 record, including a round one win at the 2A state tournament, and Coach Cooper and the players are jacked for 2022!
A young, motivated team with returning talent makes 2022 look promising for the Pirates. Coach Cooper breathes commitment, consistency, and dedication. He expects the same from his coaches and players. His players are focused on the meaning of hard work. He encourages the mindset, “I can do it if I put in the work; good things will happen.” He talks to his players about optimism and bouncing back from setbacks. He espouses respect for the team, coaches, academics, and the school. If 2021 was a year to build, renovate, and show what Highline is capable of, then 2022 is the year to fully display their hard work, dedication, and momentum.
Coach Cooper versus Coach Cross — Pirates versus Lancers — The Battle for Burien!!!
Game 2 of the season is Friday, September 9th, at 7:00 PM. The Highline Pirates will host the Kennedy Catholic Lancers at Highline Memorial Stadium. The rebuilt Pirates look to surprise the always-powerful Lancers!
Be on the lookout for part 2 featuring Sheldon Cross tomorrow!