TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- Call him Jake.
“We think a lot of Jake and we are excited to have him join our team,” Tide coach Nick Saban said in a news release on Sunday, confirming two things in the process: that Coker has signed an agreement to transfer to Alabama, and that we should now refer to the quarterback as Jake. “He is not only an outstanding football player, but he is also a fine young man who we feel will be a great fit with our program at Alabama.”
The legend of Jacob Coker has been building for a few months. Ever since he lost a close battle to Jameis Winston at Florida State, speculation of his transfer to Alabama has been rampant. He was, after all, a lifelong Alabama fan who even played at the same high school as former Tide quarterback AJ McCarron. To this day, the two share the same quarterback coach in their native Mobile.
Why Coker didn’t end up at Alabama in the first place is anyone’s guess. He could have followed McCarron to Tuscaloosa, and this whole transfer mess would have been avoided.
But if he had gone straight to Alabama, we wouldn’t have the story we have today. Coker would be just another three-star recruit hoping to follow McCarron under center instead of the mysterious high-profile prospect he is today. He wouldn’t be the guy who almost beat out the guy who won the Heisman Trophy. And in a game where promise trumps production, that’s a huge statement to make.
FSU quarterbacks coach Randy Sanders helped inflate the 6-foot-5, 230 pound Coker’s résumé when he told CBS Sports that he has “never had anybody with [Coker’s] size who throws it as well as he does.” Coker’s former coach at St. Paul’s High School in Mobile, Jimmy Perry, echoed Sanders’ praise when reached by ESPN last week, lauding Coker’s competitiveness and athleticism. Not only was he great at football, Perry said, he was one heck of a basketball player, too, earning All-Metro honors for his work at forward.
The consensus among those closest to Coker: He has all the talent in the world and just needs a home. That perfect location seems to be Tuscaloosa.
With McCarron off to the NFL, Saban had to have Coker. Getting him on campus this past weekend and signing him to a letter of intent was exactly what Alabama needed to have hopes of a national championship in 2014.
But therein lies the problem: expectations. As a player with zero starting experience, how will he handle everyone, assuming he’ll succeed?
For all that Coker is and all the hope he represents to Alabama, the spotlight surrounding him has some troubling blind spots to consider. Not only is he a redshirt junior with no starts under his belt, he’s also going to miss the entirety of spring practice while he finishes his bachelor's degree at FSU. He has never been under pressure to win a game, and he has never beaten out another quarterback for a starting job. He might have the strongest arm in the world, but he wasn’t more highly rated than any of Alabama’s other quarterbacks. Blake Sims, Alec Morris, Parker McLeod and Cooper Bateman all had better ESPN scouts grades coming out of high school, and all four have been in Tuscaloosa long enough to know how Saban likes to run his program. Throw in the advantage of spring practice, and they have the upper hand by a considerable margin.
Never let facts get in the way of a good story, we're told, but this was Coker's stat line in 2013: 18-of-36 passing for 250 yards, no touchdowns and one interception. That's middle-of-the-road production by any measurement.
Still, Coker will be the talk of campus for the next several months until preseason camp arrives. Because he won’t throw a single pass or attend a single practice until then, his legend won’t diminish. It will only grow as it has recently, speculation giving way to more fevered speculation. Enough stories will be told that he’ll be No. 1 in the depth chart of public opinion in no time.
Even if Blake, Morris, McLeod or Bateman -- aka The Forgotten -- has a strong spring, there will inevitably be someone at a bar asking his friend about the other guy coming in soon, Jake something or other. His friend will remember the name Coker, and they’ll both nod their heads in agreement: “We’re fine, we’ve got Jake.”
Being the Promised One is a lot to live up to, though.
Coker is coming to Alabama, but is he ready for the new world that awaits him? They've already picked him out a new name.