by Martin Barrett
“This is the best team we have had since I came 5 years ago. This is the year,” said Highline High School Head Football Coach Deontae Cooper. When Cooper came, the Pirates were cellar dwellers. Today they are ranked in the preseason top 10 and number 11 in the Max Preps rankings. For almost any past Pirate team, that would be a real feather in their cap. For this team, it is a chip on their shoulder. “We are not getting the respect we deserve,” Cooper said.
But Cooper understands that recognition comes from the year and after-year performance and winning the big games. This year the Pirates have the tools to do it. The Pirates compiled a 10-2 season with losses coming from 4A state runner-up Kennedy Catholic High and eventual 2A Champion Lynden in the state tournament quarterfinals round. It was a spectacular season. To win state-wide respect, it will require winning those games. He believes this team can.
The Pirates return 15 starters, including 4-star recruit Marquawn McCraney at wide receiver and defensive back. In fact, Highline will be returning all of the skill positions. Last year Highline had speed. This year they will be faster. It is in the line the Pirates lost talent. However, the new lines might be quicker and sizably bigger. The offensive line will weigh in at 270, 280, 205, 300, and 270, an increase of almost 20 pounds per position. Only returning center Jordan Heng, who could be the best athlete on the field pound per pound, outside of McCraney, would be considered undersized. But grit, focus, and fearlessness more than make up for the gap. Additionally, as the quarterback of the line, he plays very smart.
In the backfield, the Pirates lost Rico Sosa, who has joined the college ranks. However, there is every reason to believe Jamiane Matthews Jr. will not only fill his shoes but even surpass his forerunner. Matthews has greater speed and is bigger. Matthews is cut from the same jitterbug running style Coach Cooper has taught all his backs. Defenders rarely get a clean shot at a Pirate runner.
Cooper expressed high hopes for Adam Estrada, a speedy and sure-handed receiver who takes the heat off of McCraney and gives returning Quarterback Ronin Rassmussen another effective target. This will be Rassmussen’s Junior year and third as the starting Pirate quarterback. “He is playing smarter all the time. He knows the system. He knows the guys. I think this is going to be a good year for him”, said Cooper. Cooper also talked up the strong arm and leadership of last year’s backup Junior Houth who will be a sophomore this year. “Junior keeps pressing Ronin, making him work to stay ahead. “
The season opens against the Rainier Beach Vikings at home on September 1. The Vikings are in 3A and are fast. It will be a great home opener.
One week later, they take on Kennedy Catholic High School in a rematch of the Battle for Burien. “This game is what it is all about. We had our eyes opened last year; the cameras, the coverage, the crowds. This is what we must rise to. We will”, said Cooper. You could just see his desire to get on with it right now!
Cooper’s confidence comes from the team’s experience, the coaches, the school atmosphere, and the players. “They are totally focused. They are in the weight room all the time, and they are focused. No talking, Not joking, just lifting and pressing. They are focused in practice. They are hungry to win”, Cooper said.
Cooper finished by saying, “We are going to surprise some people again this year. We are going to make believers. This is going to be the school to come to for football.”