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Marcus Coker ready to carry the running back load

[ 5 ] August 10, 2011 |

As the story goes, Marcus Coker wasn’t supposed to wind up at Iowa.

He was supposed to go to Maryland or Virginia or some other school within a few hours of home in the Baltimore area — at least that was his mother’s wish.

But the Hawkeyes liked Coker, and the feelings were mutual late in the summer of 2009, and Tammy Money figured the best way to keep her only child away from Iowa was to drive him there. She figured 900 miles in the car would cool his interest in the Hawkeyes.

“That was the idea — to drive him out there so he would see exactly how far he was going to be away from home,” she said this week with a laugh. “Needless to say, that didn’t work out very well.”

Or maybe it did.

Coker fell in love with Iowa on that trip. His mother started to warm up to the idea, too, and his first year on campus turned out to be a big hit.

The 6-foot, 230-pound running back started four games for the Hawkeyes, capping his freshman season by setting Iowa bowl records with 33 carries for 219 yards during a 27-24 victory against Missouri in the Insight Bowl. Not bad for a guy who missed virtually all of training camp, sat out the first three games with a broken collarbone and started the season as the team’s No. 4 option at running back.

“It all happened so quick,” Coker said. “Looking back at it now, I can see a lot of things happened in a short amount of time. But then, when I broke my collarbone, I was trying to get mental reps and learn the offense, and then I got thrown into the game.”

The departure of three sophomores created an opportunity for Coker’s meteoric rise up the depth chart. It also left a crater behind him at the position.

Depth at running back?

“Yeah, there’s not much,” Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said. “That’s a quick discussion. I say that jokingly, but that’s one of the things we’re looking forward to in August.”

Coker logged 114 carries for 645 yards and three touchdowns as a freshman. The rest of the healthy tailbacks on the roster have registered one carry for 14 yards, statistics that belong to junior Jason White. Iowa added three freshmen to the roster — Mika’il McCall, Jordan Canzeri and Damon Bullock — and redshirt De’Andre Johnson has recovered from the knee injury that ended his senior season in high school and slowed him last fall.

Still, the Hawkeyes are counting on Coker to carry the load for a while.

“More expectations, higher expectations; I try not to look at it as a burden,” he said. “I try to look at it as a positive and something I can live up to.”

Coker and his mother spent some time in recent days reflecting on that trip to Iowa two years ago.

“They weren’t really expecting us,” Money said. “Then the morning we arrived, they got everything together in a short amount of time.”

Money said she was impressed with how officials in the science department — Coker is an astronomy major who has said he would someday like to work at NASA — went out of their way to gather informational packets and answer questions for the family on short notice.

“We were really impressed with that,” she said. “Then the friendliness of the community and the home feel, it just kind of felt like Maryland in Iowa.”

“I was pretty comfortable with Iowa. When we first went out to Iowa, my intention was to show him how far away it was from home, and I was hoping to deter him from wanting to go away that far. But after being there myself, I was very comfortable with the atmosphere and the people.”

What about that 900-mile drive?

“I slept the whole way,” Coker said. “It wasn’t too bad for me.”

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Category: Iowa Hawkeyes Football

About Andy Hamilton: University of Iowa graduate Andy Hamilton is originally from Williams, Iowa, and started at the Des Moines Register in August after 12 years at the Press-Citizen. He covers wrestling for Hawk Central. View author profile.

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