Shooting for the Stars

April 10, 2011

University of Iowa Scrimmage Photo Gallery (April 9)

Editor’s Note: The following first appeared in the University of Iowa’s Hawk Talk Daily, an e-newsletter that offers a daily look at the Iowa Hawkeyes, delivered free each morning to thousands of fans of the Hawkeyes worldwide.

IOWA CITY, Iowa — When spring practice started for the University of Iowa football team March 23, the Hawkeye coaches released a depth chart for the public to see. Apparently, running back Marcus Coker didn’t see the list.

Coker, a sophomore who burst on the scene last year with an Iowa postseason-record 219 rushing yards at the Insight Bowl, was listed as the No. 1 running back heading into spring drills. Coker doesn’t see himself in that position.

“I’m looking at every day like I’m at the bottom of the depth chart and just trying to get better,” Coker said. “Work my way up every day. I don’t look at myself as `the guy.'”

Coker’s freshman finale indicates that he is “the guy” for the Hawkeyes in the backfield when fall camp opens in August. He showed both power and speed during Iowa’s 27-24 win over Missouri in the Insight Bowl. Coker recorded a 62-yard touchdown run where he sprinted away from the Tiger defense, and also made the highlight film as he literally ran over a Missouri linebacker for a big gain.

Even though Coker showed his speed in the Insight Bowl, he says his quickness needs the most improvement this spring.

“The biggest thing is probably my quickness and speed,” Coker said. “Everything still needs to improve. I need to get my pads down a little bit more.”

Coker was anything but a one-game wonder. In seven contests, he gained 622 yards with a 5.5 average per carry. During his first collegiate start at Indiana on Nov. 6, Coker rushed for a game-high 129 yards on 22 carries as the Hawkeyes defeated the Hoosiers, 18-13.

Iowa’s injury problems at running back have been well-documented over the past few seasons. Coker believes his attitude in the backfield can help avoid some of those problems.

“Just not playing scared,” said Coker, when asked how to stay injury-free. “When you play scared, that’s when you get hurt. Running your hardest every play; don’t be timid running through the holes. If you see a linebacker in the hole, don’t try to run away from him, just run through him or put a move on him.”

Coker says he is completely healed from a broken collar bone that sidelined him during fall camp last year.

After being named offensive MVP of the Insight Bowl, Coker has received more attention in Eastern Iowa. Then again, it’s hard to miss the 6-foot, 230-pounder from Beltsville, Md.

“I’m getting recognized a lot more, but nothing has really changed,” Coker said. “The fans have shown a lot of support. I appreciate it and love it.”

Some of that attention has been fans asking for autographs, but not solely on a napkin or piece of paper.

“Somebody’s cell phone and foreheads; there have been a couple weird things,” Coker said.

Autograph requests are usually a sign that someone is a star in the making. But Coker is a big fan of another kind of star. He recently declared his major — actually majors — as astronomy and physics. His dream job is to work for NASA in an observatory. Coker received his first telescope as a seven-year old and has been staring at the sky ever since.

“As a kid, I was always interested in stars,” Coker said. “Why not do what I love?”

Coker loves football as much as he loves the stars. If he keeps duplicating his Insight Bowl performance during upcoming games and seasons, Coker will have plenty of time to enjoy being a star before he gazes at them for a living.