Glory days are past for former Bama QB, but exciting things still lie ahead
Jake Coker knows better than anyone that life can throw you curveballs and surprises, but it has all worked out pretty well for the former Alabama quarterback so far. Now, years removed from his incredible football career, Coker is back home in Mobile happily selling insurance at BancorpSouth. Though his playing days are in the rearview mirror, he still enjoys relishing in his unbelievable memories.
As a recruit at Saint Paul’s Episcopal High School, Coker remained mostly under the radar until his senior year when then-Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher made a visit. Coker was immediately impressed with Fisher, so he committed when the coach offered him a scholarship.
“I was told by Coach Fisher they were taking one quarterback,” said Coker. “If another quarterback committed before me then I would lose my opportunity. I jumped on it, and I felt like a commitment was a commitment, so I wasn’t going to change it after I made that decision. It didn’t matter who offered me a scholarship after that because I was with Florida State.”
Of course, others did offer, but not even his favorite team growing up — the Alabama Crimson Tide — could change his mind. However, Coker soon found his role at Florida State to be that of a backup. After the Seminoles won the 2013 national championship, Coker was ready to transfer and compete for the starting position at the school he always loved.
“I loved my time at FSU, and I loved that team,” said Coker. “That national championship meant a lot to me, but I was ready to win one as a starter. It had always been my dream growing up to win a national championship at Alabama.”
But after transferring to Alabama, Coker had another setback.
“I came into Alabama right after having a knee surgery when I left Florida State. But I had to get that same knee surgery again right after arriving on campus,” Coker said. “It just was one thing after another. That was a frustrating year for me, for sure.”
The injury came at a crucial point in Coker’s career. Not only did he have to compete with Blake Sims for the starting position, but he had to do so while recovering from surgery. Unfortunately for Coker, Sims won the job.
“It was a mental struggle for me though that year, just because you don’t want to let your hometown down,” Coker said. “For that entire 2014 season, I was just thinking, ‘I only have one more year. I’ve got to make this work.’ I put a lot of pressure on myself. I probably should have relaxed a bit and realized it’s also about having fun, but I got to do that my senior year in 2015.”
His senior year was by far Coker’s most memorable. After the Tide failed to advance past the first round of the College Football Playoff in 2014, Bama coaches, teammates, and fans alike turned to Coker to lead them to college football’s promised land. He did not disappoint, proving to be quite the gunslinger with 3,110 yards and 21 touchdowns through the air in 2015. But Coker didn’t rely solely on his arm. The 6-foot-6, 236-pound quarterback quickly became known for his ability to steamroll defenders when running the ball. Coker would lower his shoulder and plow over almost anyone who dared do the same.
“I loved challenging somebody head up and winning that battle,” Coker said. “People talk about quarterbacks being so fragile, but I was bigger than most of the guys trying to tackle me outside of the defensive lineman. I always just felt like a football player playing quarterback, and contact is part of being a football player. I loved to hit, and I think the team loved that I loved it as well.”
As bad as Coker could hurt you on the ground, he could hurt you worse through the air. One of his most memorable passes came against then-No. 18 Florida in the 2015 SEC Championship. Late in the third quarter, Coker connected with ArDarius Stewart for an electrifying 32-yard touchdown pass to extend the lead to two scores in No. 2 Alabama’s eventual 29-15 victory. But his greatest test was facing No. 1 Clemson in the 2016 College Football Playoff National Championship Game.
“That game was definitely the most stressful I have ever played in,” said Coker. “We’d score. They’d come back. Clemson was just relentless. You just felt like the game was never over no matter how many times we scored.”
But Coker did his part in helping the Tide outlast the Tigers. His most memorable play happened during the first scoring drive of the second half. The teams were tied 14-14 when Coker threw a bomb to O.J. Howard for a 53-yard touchdown.
“We actually ran that same play the game before against Michigan State,” Coker said. “It was a tough route combination for defenses to pick up on. They rolled coverage, and the corner and the safety had a big miscommunication. I just remember I got the snap and looked to see what the corner would do. Nobody picked O.J. up, and I remember letting go of the ball before he had even turned around. I was just begging him to turn around and see the ball, see the ball, see the ball. He turned just in time, caught it, and ran it into the end zone. My heart has never beat harder than it did after throwing that touchdown pass.”
Coker was instrumental in the Tide’s 45-40 win by completing 16 of 25 passes for 335 yards and two touchdowns. A lifelong dream hindered by multiple setbacks was finally fulfilled in the most fitting way.
The Arizona Cardinals signed Coker as a free agent a few months later, but he was cut prior to in training camp on August 29, 2016, and his playing career was complete.
Coker’s days of on-field glory on the field may be over, but an exciting new chapter of his life is nearing as he prepares to marry the love of his life in a few months.
“Things are good and moving fast than ever,” said Coker. “I’m just trying to keep up.” H&A
Cover photo: Jake Coker speaks at the Captains ceremony before Alabama’s A-Day spring football game, Saturday, April 16, 2016, at Bryant-Denny Stadium in Tuscaloosa, Ala. Vasha Huntfirstname.lastname@example.org | Photo courtesy Alabama Media Group