Coker humbly battles for FSU QB job

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- Steve Mask was an assistant football coach in 2009 at St. Paul's Episcopal in Mobile, Ala., but for the annual faculty-vs.-students basketball game he was relegated to the role of referee.

The early part of the game belonged to the faculty, which led by a few points when Mask noticed his starting quarterback, Jacob Coker, flip a switch. Coker was the school's star athlete -- in football, basketball and baseball -- and he had no intention of being upstaged by his teachers.

On the next six trips down the court, Coker took every shot. All six connected, four of them dunks.

"It sounds trivial, but in that one spot, there was no question," Mask said. "This guy does not like to lose."

In the three years since, Coker's wide-ranging athleticism has been whittled down to just the football field, and even there he has been relegated for the most part to the role of spectator. In his two years at Florida State, Coker has thrown just five passes for 45 yards. But that could finally change this season, and while he's far from the most glamorous or most vocal member of Florida State's quarterback battle, he might be the most competitive.

"He's a quiet, soft-spoken young man," Jimbo Fisher said, "but that's a tough son of a gun."

Coker was a star on the basketball court in high school, earning Mobile's player of the year award as a junior. He was a key member of the St. Paul's baseball team until he decided to focus his energy on football. Looking for something to fill some time as a senior, he picked up a javelin for the first time in his life and ended up winning a state championship. Coker is a natural at all of it, but earning respect on the football field has been a bigger obstacle.

As a sophomore at St. Paul's, Coker was the backup quarterback. The starter was AJ McCarron, who struggled behind a lackluster supporting cast and won just a handful of games before moving on to Alabama, where he has led the Crimson Tide to the last two national championships.

When Coker took over, the offensive line was so bad coach Jimmy Perry was forced to install a Wing-T offense. It was his only hope of moving the football.

"If I'd put him in a pro-style offense, he'd have gotten butchered," Perry said.

Coker survived, but the system did little to showcase his talent. He received only minimal attention from the recruiting services, considered a mid-level prospect at best. But Fisher saw past the scant statistical achievements and drooled at the possibilities of a 6-foot-6, 240-pound behemoth with the agility of a basketball player and an arm that, while not exactly on par with Fisher's prized protégé, Jamarcus Russell, was about as close as anyone can get.

"I can coach 100 years and never coach a guy that strong, but [Coker] is very strong," Fisher said. "He's got a big-time arm."

Fisher offered Coker a scholarship after his junior season, a move Perry predicts will eventually make the FSU coach look like a genius.

To read more of David M. Hale's story, click here.