NCAA FB

Iowa RB Coker prepping for starting role

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IOWA CITY, Iowa (AP)

Though Iowa running back Marcus Coker arrived in Iowa City last summer as a 6-foot, 230-pound physical specimen, he was still a high school kid who'd only seen the Hawkeyes weight room on a recruiting trip.

A broken right collarbone at the start of fall camp further hindered his development, both on the field and in Iowa's highly respected conditioning program.

None of that seemed to matter by December, when Coker ripped apart Missouri's top-notch defense for 219 yards on 33 carries in leading Iowa to a win in the Insight Bowl.

The starting job is now unquestionably Coker's and he's hoping his first full offseason program with the Hawkeyes will help him blossom into one of the Big Ten's best backs.

''If you have a lot to live up to, you're going to push yourself harder,'' Coker said. ''I feel like I have a lot put on me this year, so I try to live up to that.''

Coker's emergence as Iowa's lead back is both a testament to his physical and mental maturity and a sign of just how much turbulence the Hawkeyes have seen at that spot.

Coker certainly seems poised to shut that revolving door.

Coker, who turned 19 just last month, was a prep star at DeMatha Catholic in Maryland, an area where the Hawkeyes have recently expanded their recruiting efforts. He rushed for 1,698 yards on over 10 yards per carry and 23 touchdowns as a senior, and with over 1,000 hours of volunteer community service under his belt his off-the-field resume appeared equally as impressive.

Initially, the plan was to ease Coker into playing time. After all, the Hawkeyes had three backs just a year ahead of him in Brandon Wegher, Jewel Hampton and Adam Robinson.

But Wegher abruptly left the team before camp had barely started, and Hampton transferred to Southern Illinois after the second blown knee of his young career. Robinson, who suddenly found himself as the first and seemingly only trusted option last fall, played well for most of the season before academic issues and an arrest for marijuana possession - on the eve of the Insight Bowl, for which he was already suspended for failing to comply with team policies.

A mysterious heart issue sidelined freshman running back/fullback Brad Rogers for the bowl game, leaving Coker as the only guy remaining in Iowa's backfield.

Coker had shown promise with strong efforts against Indiana and Ohio State, and seemed to handle the pounding that night in Arizona without a problem. He set the program's record for carries and yards in a bowl game against the Tigers, while breaking off a 62-yard TD run that showcased his power through holes and his speed once he gets past them.

Still, if Coker's going to handle the weekly grind of the Big Ten as Iowa's starting running back - a spot that rarely gets a breather - he knows this summer will be a critical one for building his strength and conditioning.

Coker finished with 622 yards rushing as a true freshman last season despite making just four starts. He, junior quarterback James Vandenberg and receiver Keenan Davis headline a group of relatively inexperienced offensive players the Hawkeyes need to have breakout seasons in 2011.

''He has the mindset of a veteran,'' senior wide receiver Marvin McNutt said of Coker. ''There's going to be some young guys that have to step up, but they're not going to do it alone. We're all teammates out here. We're going to be able to do it as a process together.''

Coker said Tuesday that he's approaching workouts with the mindset that he's last on the depth chart, which shouldn't be all that tough for him given that that's exactly where he sat 12 months ago. But he's also looking forward to the opportunity to carry

''It's exciting, but at the same time nerve-racking. But you know, butterflies are always good,'' Coker said.

Tagged: Iowa, Marcus Coker

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