Former Washington state star Derek Sparks dies in battle with cancer

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From staff reports

Derek Sparks, a former Washington state football and soccer coach who inspired many with his motivational personality, died Tuesday after battling stage 4 pancreatic cancer for several months.

The Cleats vs. Cancer broke the news.

In 2018, Sparks founded Cleats vs. Cancer, a high school football showcase in Seattle dedicated to raising funds for children battling cancer, after her daughter, Ze’Lee, was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia. She is now cancer free.

Sparks was an outstanding running back for the Cougars in the early 1990s, helping WSU win the 1992 Copper Bowl and the 1994 Alamo Bowl. He was the 1994 Apple Cup MVP and was nominated for the Doak Walker Award in 1995 before a short stint in the NFL.

He began his coaching career in 1997 at Compton (California) College before stopping at Garfield High and Kennedy Catholic High in Washington State. For the past three years he has taught running backs for Pacific Lutheran University.

Also a motivational speaker, Sparks founded the House of Champions for Homeless High School Student-Athletes in 2014. He is also the author of “Lessons of the Game: The Untold Story of High School Football”.

Sparks was a top-notch recruit to Mater Dei after moving to California from his hometown of Wharton, Texas.


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