Oct. 8, 2010
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IOWA CITY, Iowa — University of Iowa freshman running back Marcus Coker dreams of one day working at NASA, but for now, the native of Beltsville, Md., is soaring sky high with the Hawkeyes.
Coker, one of a handful of true freshmen who have participated in Iowa’s first five games, saw substantial action during a 45-0 win against Ball State on Sept. 25, rushing 10 times for 60 yards and catching a pass for 12.
“I was happy, but I wasn’t ecstatic about my performance,” Coker said. “I felt I could have done a lot better, but I was glad I got into my first game.”
That initial collegiate carry was delayed by injury. During preseason camp Coker was sprinting down field when he was hit from behind. He fell, landed awkwardly and injured his shoulder, keeping him sidelined most of August and early September.
“It was difficult mentally and physically,” Coker said of the injury. “I got as many mental reps as I could when I was watching practice. Since I couldn’t get any physical reps, I needed to get mental reps.”
Coker has an excellent tutor in Hawkeye sophomore Adam Robinson. Through five games for No. 15 Iowa, Robinson has gained 480 yards on the ground, averaging 4.9 yards per carry, with six touchdowns and a long of 75.
“He’s smaller than me, but he’s so determined to get those extra yards,” the 6-foot Coker said of the 5-9 Robinson. “He also breaks a lot of tackles. Seeing that drive and seeing how much he wants to win, that’s a big pick-up for me.”
With the Hawkeyes leading Ball State 35-0 in the fourth quarter, Coker entered the game. He followed his first rush of 1 yard with gains of 6, 5, 7, 21 and 4 before quarterback James Vandenberg threw to Colin Sandeman for a 6-yard touchdown.
On his second series, Coker carried the ball three times for 20 yards and hauled in a pass. That drive produced a 25-yard field goal by another true freshman, Mike Meyer, and Iowa had a 45-point edge. The Hawkeyes received the ball one more time and Coker closed the victory by rushing twice up the middle for four yards.
“I wasn’t worried about my shoulder, I was worrying about getting yardage and impressing the coaches,” Coker said.
UI head coach Kirk Ferentz called Coker’s performance a positive step since the shoulder injury cost him a chance to gain a fundamental base in preseason.
“I expected competition. I believe you have to practice against the best to be the best, so that’s what I wanted to do here.”
UI freshman running back
“It’s a good start,” Ferentz said. “It was the first time he had been tackled intentionally on this campus or in our football facility. He has a good future.”
Coker has completed two weeks of practice since his collegiate debut. He did not see action during Iowa’s 24-3 win against Penn State on Oct. 2, but offensive coordinator Ken O’Keefe says Coker and redshirt freshman running back Brad Rogers are seeing more time in practice.
“We trust them,” O’Keefe said. “They’re liable to be in there at any point in time. They have to know what’s going on, and really they’ve gotten a lot of reps this week, especially in the blitz pickup and the protection game, which is critical to what we do. But (running backs) coach (Lester) Erb is working his magic again with a couple of freshmen, and he’s done a good job with those guys, and they’ll be ready if we need them.”
As a high school senior, Coker was named first team all-state and offensive MVP of Super 60 list in Maryland/District of Columbia/Virginia area. He helped DeMatha Catholic to a four-year record of 43-5 and rushed for 1,698 yards and 23 touchdowns in 2009.
Coker, who posted more than 1,000 hours of community service in high school, visited the University of Iowa before beginning two-a-day practices at DeMatha in the summer of 2009. He was impressed with the Hawkeye coaches and the atmosphere and environment in Iowa City. But that was nothing compared to what he witnessed last Saturday throughout Iowa’s three-touchdown victory on Homecoming against the Nittany Lions. Kinnick Stadium — home of the Hawkeyes — was once again sold out. This time, the 70,585 fans were seated in alternating, synchronized sections of black and gold.
“I’ve gone to a lot of college games and I have never seen anything like that,” Coker said with a smile. “The gold and black was impressive.”
If there was a benefit to suffering a preseason injury, Coker said it gave him more time to acclimate to college life, which was a good thing considering his academic interest.
“I want to double-major in astronomy and physics,” Coker said. “I want to work for NASA.”
Right now, he is satisfied being on Cloud 9 at the University of Iowa.