SEATTLE – Protected from treacherous weather conditions inside the Dempsey Indoor Center a mix of two contrasting eras of Washington football came together to support the next group of NFL hopeful Huskies.
Shortly after 11 a.m. Saturday morning, sporting a grey UW-themed hoodie and his trademark dreads, former star linebacker and current Carolina Panther Shaq Thompson emerged with long-time friend / teammate and Jacksonville Jaguars safety James Sample.
As Thompson approached UW strength and condition coach Tim Socha, seeking someone who would recognize Sample, former Huskies running back Deontae Cooper stood nearby leaning against a railing with his twin brother, Deontrae, and his trainer.
For Sample, who signed with UW as a four-star athlete in 2011, the return marked his first since transferring in January 2013, one month after the school hired Chris Petersen as head coach. A few notches up the spectrum, Thompson expressed sincere happiness to be back and watch some of his former teammates.
But no player could match Cooper, who played for both Petersen and Steve Sarkisian, when it came to the feeling of seeing Purple and Gold everywhere again. Cooper had a light-hearted exchange with a friend doing a mock interview shortly before meeting with reporters, bringing his ever-so bright smile back to Montlake.
“Fun to be back man,” Cooper said sporting the ear-to-ear grin. “UDub has my heart that’s for sure. The teammates and relationships I made here. The fans – people you guys – just the memories I made here.”
Cooper, who signed with UW in 2010 as the No. 154 overall recruit in the class per Rivals.com rankings, missed the 2010-12 seasons after suffering three separate ACL tears. He played only one full season, in 2014, appearing in 13 games and rushed for 285 on 63 carries.
The 2015 season, his last at Washington before playing 2016 at San Jose State as a grad transfer, Cooper recorded his final rushing touchdown, with the memory of the environment being something he will never forget.
“It’s just the overall experience that made it special,” Cooper said, recalling his time in Seattle. “If you’re at a place for five-plus years it’s going to be special to you. It was a hard decision to leave but I was glad I was able to come back and finish where it all started.”
To come back from three separate ACL tears; to wait three years to play your first game and have to leave what became his home, Cooper made sure he brought his family up one last time.
That family also includes Sample, a long-time friend and the only person able to get Sample to return back to Seattle and a time that still leaves mixed emotions with the one-time UW safety.
“That’s my guy,” Cooper said of Sample, with the two training together in the off-season dating back to their time at UW. “I talked with him throughout the whole process since he was here when I was here. That’s my guy.”
If Sample didn’t return for Cooper, he might have returned to see the guy who used him as a virtual punching bag of his. Dating back to grade school the two former Huskies played each other often in the popular video game, with Cooper calling Sample his “Madden dummy.”
“He’d explain it to you differently.” Cooper said jokingly. “But I use to beat up on him in Madden. That’s kind of where our relationship grew on the sticks.”
The two didn’t get a chance to portray their video game skills for the 15-plus NFL teams with personnel in attendance. Instead, Sample preferred to keep a low profile, standing off to the side with other former UW teammates Jonathan Amosa, Tre Watson and Michael Hartvigson among others.
For the old guys in the building . . . the day was for Deontae Cooper and the rest of the NFL hopeful Huskies.