Derek Sparks, a former Washington State tailback and football coach who inspired many with his motivational character traits, died recently after battling Stage 4 pancreatic cancer for several months.
The Twitter page for Cleats vs. Cancer announced the news Tuesday.
In 2018, Sparks founded Cleats vs. Cancer, a high school football showcase in Seattle dedicated to raising funds for children battling cancer, after his daughter, Ze’Lee, was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia. She is now cancer-free.
Sparks was a standout running back for the Cougars in the early 1990s, helping WSU to wins in the ‘92 Copper Bowl and the ‘94 Alamo Bowl. He was the MVP of the 1994 Apple Cup and was a Doak Walker Award nominee in 1995 before a short stint in the NFL.
He began his coaching career in 1997 at Compton (California) College before making stops at Washington state’s Garfield High and Kennedy Catholic High. He taught running backs for Pacific Lutheran University over the past three years.
Also a motivational speaker , Sparks founded the House of Champions for Homeless High School Student-Athletes in 2014. He also authored “Lessons of the Game: The Untold Story of High School Football.”
Sparks was a blue-chip recruit out of Mater Dei after relocating to California from his hometown of Wharton, Texas.